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What standards you should expect from NHS services

The NHS Constitution sets out the rights you have as a patient of NHS services. All healthcare staff should involve you in decisions and treat you with kindness, dignity and respect. You have the right to complain if things don’t go as you expect.

What do my patient healthcare rights cover?

Your rights and responsibilities as a patient are set out in the NHS Constitution. These rights include:

  • access to health services
  • good quality of care 
  • being treated by appropriately qualified and experienced staff
  • making decisions about medications and treatments  
  • being protected from abuse and neglect
  • respect and confidentiality
  • making a complaint if you aren’t happy or if things go wrong.

Learn more about your rights under the NHS Constitution on GOV.UK

What are my rights to GP services?

You have the right to choose your GP practice, unless there are reasonable grounds to refuse. If you can’t find a practice to accept you, NHS England or your local integrated care board (ICB) must find one for you.

You can make an appointment with a GP of your choice and the practice should try to comply with your wishes. You don’t have a right to have a second opinion, but you can ask to be referred for a second opinion from another GP or a specialist. 

You also have the right to receive vaccinations provided under the NHS national immunisation programme.

Find out more about GP services

What are my rights to hospital services?

Throughout a stay in hospital, you have the right to be treated with dignity and respect and be offered suitable, nutritious food and hydration to support your health and wellbeing.

Can I choose which hospital I'm referred to?

You have a right to choose which hospital you’re referred to for an outpatient appointment for a physical or mental health condition. But the hospital you choose should provide appropriate care for your condition and be appointed by the NHS to provide that service.

If your GP wants to make an urgent referral, for example due to suspected cancer, you can't choose what services to use – your GP will select them for you. You don’t have the right to choose where to have treatment if you’re to be held under the Mental Health Act.

Find out more about what to expect when going into hospital

How long do I have to wait for treatment?

You should start your consultant-led treatment within a maximum of 18 weeks from referral for non-urgent conditions. 

If your GP makes an urgent referral due to suspected cancer, you should be seen by a cancer specialist within a maximum of 2 weeks of the referral date.

However, the current waiting times in most areas are longer than these targets due to pressures on the NHS.

You can check the current waiting times for different procedures in specific hospitals on the NHS's My Planned Care online service. This service also offers advice on what you can do while waiting and how to prepare for your appointment.

Visit the My Planned Care online service on the NHS website

Can I access care after leaving hospital?

You should be involved with your care providers in planning and making decisions about your care and be given information and support to enable you to do this. Where appropriate this includes involving your family and carers and giving you the chance to manage your own care and treatment.

Find out more about what to expect when leaving hospital

How should I be involved in decisions?

Under the NHS constitution, you have the right to make decisions about medical tests and treatment you receive. Staff should clearly explain any proposed tests or treatment, including the associated risks and benefits.

You have the right to refuse any tests or treatment, as long as you have the mental capacity to make that decision. A health professional must not give you any treatment unless you've agreed.

Decisions about drug treatments

You have a right to be offered drugs and treatment recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) if your doctor says they are appropriate.

Decisions on funding other drugs or treatments that your doctor feels are right for you should be made rationally and, if funding isn't agreed, your doctor should explain why.

Can others make decisions without my permission?

Someone may be unable to make or communicate decisions about their treatment at the time they need to be made. This could be due to impaired brain function, for example if they have dementia or are unconscious.

If you’re unable to make a decision at the time and have given someone else the legal authority to make health or care decisions on your behalf by registering a lasting power of attorney, they have the right to make that decision for you.

A health and care lasting power of attorney is a legal document that allows someone to make decisions for you or act on your behalf if you’re no longer able to.

Find out more about powers of attorney

If you aren’t able to make or communicate a decision and there's no one with the right to make it on your behalf, (i.e. you haven’t made and registered a power of attorney for health and care) the doctor in charge of your care must make a decision in your best interests.

To inform their decision, they should consult with your family and try to find out what you might have wanted had you been able to decide for yourself. If there’s no one for the doctor to consult with, they should appoint an Independent Mental Capacity Advocate to represent you.

An Independent Mental Capacity Advocate is an independent person with relevant experience and training who can make submissions to the doctor in charge of your care and, if necessary, challenge decisions on your behalf. 

Find out more about Mental Capacity Advocates on the NHS website

Can I complain about NHS services?

You have the right to expect good quality services from the NHS. You can make a complaint if you’re not happy with the service or care you receive or feel you've been treated unfairly.

Find out more about making a complaint about NHS services

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We offer support through our free advice line on 0800 678 1602. Lines are open 8am-7pm, 365 days a year. We also have specialist advisers at over 120 local Age UKs.

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Last updated: Apr 08 2024

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