It sets out seven principles that underlie the NHS and the rights and responsibilities that accompany them.
NHS organisations will in future be required by law to take the constitution into account in decision-making.
It offers staff four key pledges (see box) and reinforces legal rights on fair pay, flexible working, freedom from bullying and discrimination, and the right to representation. In return, they are expected to act professionally, protect confidential information and help develop a learning environment.
‘For staff, the draft constitution recognises that it is their commitment, loyalty, professionalism and dedication that really makes a difference to patients’ quality of care and experience,’ it states.
Patients will be given a new legal right to select a GP practice and choose between different types of treatment. They will also be able to choose a hospital and the type of treatment they want but will not be allowed to choose between individual surgeons in an NHS team.
Patient rights will also be balanced by responsibilities.
‘Although patients will still be treated based on clinical need, there will be an onus on them to contribute to their own good health and take some personal responsibility,’ the draft states.
The constitution, drawn up over the last 12 months, will require parliamentary approval to be fully implemented, and ministers will be ‘obliged’ to renew it every 10 years.
A two-week consultation period began last week on the draft, with a final version due by the end of the year.
Health secretary Alan Johnson said: ‘What we have come up with is not set in stone but is a good basis for further consultation. I think it strikes the right balance between the need for clarity and avoiding undue litigation.’
RCN general secretary Peter Carter welcomed the draft, saying it would safeguard NHS ‘central principles, values and the ambition to deliver high-quality care’.
Karen Reay, Unite national officer for health, described it as a ‘milestone’.
The four key pledges to NHS staff
The NHS will strive to: