Opinion Former Article

MRSA Action UK: Is the NHS Constitution, more broken pledges, or a real Constitution for the rights of patients?

At the State opening of Parliament the Government unveiled the proposal for a bill to be brought forward to strengthen the National Health Service. The bill will create a duty to take account of the new NHS Constitution, which includes patients' rights and responsibilities within the NHS.

MRSA Action UK had high hopes that this new Constitution for the NHS would herald a new era of "Standards and Expectations" within the NHS for the people of this country.

Government Ministers have pledged to reduce Health Inequalities within our Health Service by promising a Health Service that is accessible and personal to all. Ministers have publicly stated that they needed to make big practical changes to set a new standard of service that is patient led meeting patient's specific needs.

MRSA Action UK had hoped that the new NHS Constitution would identify how this will be delivered. Very little has been revealed in the Queen's Speech.

Whilst the new NHS Constitution has given patients some basic rights and responsibilities, there is a lack of clarity on the rights and responsibilities that the patient can expect from the NHS and the regulators. One of the first actions on entering Downing Street by our Prime Minister was to initiate a review of the NHS by Lord Darzi. This was heralded as a once in a lifetime review that would set the standard for the NHS for the next 25 years.

Once again the Government has failed to listen to the concerns of patient groups such as ourselves. Whilst we applaud the concept of the new NHS Constitution, MRSA Action UK advised the Government that this new Constitution must give very comprehensive rights to patients who use the NHS.

On the 60th Anniversary of the founding of the NHS, this Labour Government had the opportunity to make our NHS fit for purpose for the 21st Century, while still maintaining the fundamental principles on which the NHS was founded. 60 years ago another Labour Government had the political courage to give rise to the NHS against very strong opposition because it believed that "Free Healthcare" was a fundamental human right for everyone irrespective of the ability to pay.

Once again we have seen that our political leaders have been timid, deficient in political courage and lack the vision or foresight to give firm commitments to ensure that patients receive safe, clean care. There are many words contained within the new NHS Constitution such as "Principles, Values, Rights, Pledges and Responsibilities" all very good, but meaningless if they are not supported by the actions to make them work.

There are seven key principles in the new Constitution that underpin the core NHS values, not one of those core NHS values underpins the rights of patients to expect the NHS to ensure they receive safe, clean care, free from the exposure of avoidable Healthcare Infections. The Government has said in the NHS Constitution that the NHS will "strive" to ensure that services are provided in a clean, safe environment. Our Charity's opinion is that it must be a "duty" to ensure that patients receive the safe, clean care we all expect from the NHS.

MRSA Action UK welcomes the legal right for patients to be able to choose where to be treated in hospital. This is a fundamental right of any person in a free democratic society. The right of the patient to make this fundamental choice can only be an informed decision if there is free access to hospitals' records of outcomes of treatment. Patients have a right to free access of information on infection rates for the particular hospital they wish to be treated in. This must be easily accessible to enable that informed choice, and include infection rates for surgical procedures.

A Constitution is a contract, agreement or a bond between the provider (Government and NHS) and the user (Patients), one that is both fair and responsible to both. Whilst this Government want the public to take more responsibility for their own health within this contract for free healthcare, there is a serious deficiency on the responsibility from the staff and the hospitals to make themselves accountable for errors or the contraction of avoidable Healthcare Infections.

Courage, vision and foresight must be the hallmark of this move for patients' rights. This new NHS Constitution is only a small step in the right direction for the improvement of health treatment for the people of this country, but this Government have to make those who cannot guarantee clean, safe care accountable for their failings. Whilst 9 out of 10 hospitals inspected this year are still failing to achieve basic hygiene standards, a statutory duty set out in the Hygiene Code, introducing a new Constitution will not ensure patients can feel confident that the hospital that they are receiving treatment in will keep them safe, when regulators have failed to issue improvement notices and use their powers to intervene. Where is the accountability in this contract?

Derek Butler
Chair
MRSA Action UK
Registered Charity No 1115672
Tel No: 07762 741114

http://mrsaactionuk.net

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