New commitments on end-of-life care and single-sex wards are set to be included in the NHS Constitution, under proposals unveiled today.
Ministers said the wide-ranging package of reforms would empower patients and ensure their wishes come first.
Rules on involving individuals and families in treatment decisions are being strengthened following negative press coverage surrounding the use of the Liverpool Care Pathway for end of life care patients.
Under the measures being put out for consultation, trusts that fail to discuss issues properly could be sued. Doctors who ignore the wishes of patients and relatives face being struck off.
For the first time, the coalition coalition’s policy on single sex wards would be included in the constitution.
The document would pledge that those admitted to hospital “will not have to share sleeping accommodation with patients of the opposite sex”.
Other planned changes include:
- A new right for patients to receive acknowledgement, an explanation and apology where mistakes have been made
- A commitment that complaints will be acknowledged within three working days, and tougher rules on handling them
- A warning that abusive and violent patients could be denied access to NHS services, if it is “safe” to do so.
Health minister Norman Lamb said the government was determined to protect the founding principles of the health service.
“The NHS is one of this country’s greatest achievements. This government will always make sure it is free to all, no matter your age or the size of your bank balance,” he said.
“That’s why at the same time as we are protecting its budget, we are strengthening this constitution, which enshrines the right of everyone to have first class care, now and in the future.”
Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said: “At a time when the NHS is facing huge challenges and increasing demand it’s important that the constitution has greater traction.
“We’re pleased to see the suggestions of a stronger constitution, which in particular calls for the NHS to aspire to the highest standards of excellence, but we’re concerned about just how big a constitution this will be,” he said. “How will a huge, complex document make the necessary improvements to staff on the ground and improve the care of patients?”
He added: “While a greater emphasis on the relationship between staff and patients is welcome, more steps will have to be taken to make everyone aware of the Constitution’s existence and its benefits, as the questions we’re still hearing are ‘how does it affect me?’. This is especially important when it comes to clearly explaining the sanctions in place to protect staff from violent attacks.”