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NHS Constitution

The NHS belongs to us all

Download the NHS Consitution (PDF)

Download the NHS Constitution (PDF) and find out about all your rights as an NHS patient.  


The NHS is there for us from the moment we are born. It takes care of us and our family members when we need it most.

The NHS Constitution has been created to protect the NHS and make sure it will always do the things it was set up to do in 1948 - to provide high-quality healthcare that’s free and for everyone.

The NHS Constitution will also make sure that no government can change the way the NHS works without getting the approval of staff, patients and the public. The Constitution is a promise that the NHS will always be there for you.   


What is the NHS Constitution?

For the first time in the history of the NHS, the constitution brings together in one place details of what staff, patients and the public can expect from the National Health Service. It also explains what you can do to help support the NHS, help it work effectively, and help ensure that its resources are used responsibly.

The Constitution sets out your rights as an NHS patient. These rights cover how patients access health services, the quality of care you’ll receive, the treatments and programmes available to you, confidentiality, information and your right to complain if things go wrong.

Did you know…

If your GP refers you for treatment, you have the right for any non-emergency treatment that you need to start within a maximum of 18 weeks or for the NHS to take all reasonable steps to offer you a range of alternatives if this is not possible. You also have the right to be seen by a specialist within a maximum of two weeks from GP referral for urgent referrals where cancer is suspected.  For more information visit our section on waiting times.


If your GP refers you to see a consultant you may have a choice of a number of hospitals. You might want to choose a hospital that has better results for your treatment than others, or one near your place of work. Ask your GP for more information or search and compare hospitals using the Find and choose services option. 


You can view your personal health records. You don’t have to give a reason to see them, just ask at your GP surgery and make an appointment to come in.


You should always be treated with dignity and respect, in accordance with your human rights. This means, for example, that your right to privacy should be respected. You should not have to share sleeping or bathroom facilities with members of the opposite sex, except on the rare occasions where you need very specialised or urgent care. For more information visit our section on Same-sex accommodation.


You have the right to have any complaint you make about the NHS dealt with efficiently and have it investigated properly. If you wish to make a complaint about an NHS organisation, contact them directly first. If you're not sure where to start or how to get in touch with an NHS body or independent regulator, the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) can help. Its role is to make sure your concerns reach the right people and to support you in resolving any problems you may have. It can help you to make a complaint and introduce you to agencies and support groups outside the NHS.


The promises the NHS makes to you

The NHS also makes certain pledges to you, which it is committed to achieving. These go above and beyond your legal rights and are a commitment to provide high-quality services.

 Did you know...

The NHS is working hard to make sure that you are seen as soon as possible, at a time that is convenient to you. While the NHS is making it easier for you to get a hospital appointment more quickly, it's also giving you more opportunity to see a GP at a time that suits you. Nearly two-thirds of GP surgeries now offer extended opening hours so you can book appointments before or after work. Each area is also establishing new GP-led health centres offering walk-in and bookable GP appointments from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week. You'll be able to use the service regardless of which local GP surgery you're registered with. 


The NHS commits to inform you about the healthcare services available to you, locally and nationally. NHS Choices, for example, is a service intended to help you make choices about your health, from lifestyle decisions about things like smoking, drinking and exercise, through to the practical aspects of finding and using NHS services in England. 


The NHS commits to ensure that services are provided in a clean and safe environment that is fit for purpose, based on national best practice. Tell the provider of your care of any concerns about your healthcare facilities and participate in the regular surveys of patient experience that the NHS uses to improve its care.


What the NHS needs from you in return

The NHS is a vital resource and we can all help it work effectively, and ensure resources are used responsibly. The NHS Constitution explains the ways in which you can do this, including:

  • recognising that you can make a significant contribution to your own, and your family’s good health and wellbeing, and taking some personal responsibility for it
  • registering with a GP practice
  • following courses of treatment you’ve agreed to
  • always treating NHS staff and other patients with respect
  • keeping GP and hospital appointments - or if you have to cancel, doing so
    in good time
  • giving feedback - both positive and negative - about treatment you’ve received 


Last reviewed: 15/04/2010

Next review due: 14/04/2012


Everything you need to know about the NHS in England including its watchdogs and what is done to keep your personal records safe.

NHS complaints

You have the right to complain if you're not happy with the care or treatment you've received or you've been refused treatment for a condition.

LINk - make it happen!

Join your LINk

Help to improve health and social services in your area by joining your Local Involvement Network (LINk).

Alternative versions

You can also download an easyread version (PDF), which can be useful for people with low literacy levels or those whose first language is not English. Carers and other healthcare professionals may use it to help explain more complex information.

Audio and Braille versions are available on request.