The new NHS Constitution, underpinned by the Health Bill currently going through parliament, reaffirms the core values of the health service and refreshes them for the 21st century. It sets out the rights and responsibilities of patients, the public and staff.
The constitution represents a coming of age for the NHS. Over the past decade, the NHS has undergone three phases of reform.
First, there was massive investment to lift the health service back on to its feet. The second phase ushered in a new system based on patient choice and encouraged competition between providers to drive up the quality of services. Now that we have greater capacity and the right system in place, it is time to realise the full benefits of the next stage of NHS reform.
Last year, Lord Darzi asked more than 60,000 doctors, nurses, patients and members of the public what they wanted from the NHS. They demanded an unrelenting focus on quality.
They wanted an NHS that is safe and effective and for their experience of the health service to be a good one: from the clinical care they receive to being treated with dignity and respect. This is our definition of quality and achieving it represents the third stage of reform.
Quality and choice
The Health Bill will enable this third stage to take root. It will give patients more choice and control over the care they receive and improve the quality of services. It contains a great deal that relates directly to GPs.
The bill places a new legal duty on all NHS bodies to have regard to the constitution in all of their decisions and actions. It places a responsibility on patients to register with a GP and to keep their appointments or cancel them within a reasonable time. As GPs, your role will be crucial in helping them to exercise their rights.
But the bill is about far more than the constitution. It sets out how we will pilot direct payments for healthcare. Placing more control of the purse strings in the hands of the individual has proved a powerful driver of change within social care. With GPs providing appropriate advice and guidance, personal health budgets have the potential to improve quality of life for patients across the country.
And improving patients' quality of life will feed directly in to another part of the bill, the introduction of quality accounts. All providers of NHS care will have to publish these in the same way that many already publish annual financial accounts.
They will include information on all aspects of care, driving up standards and giving patients the information they need to make informed choices.
Quality accounts will paint a clear picture for the public of how a provider is performing. They will help providers to prioritise the use of resources and enable patients to make better, more informed choices. Quality accounts represent a commitment by the provider to improve the quality of care and an invitation to the local community to hold them to account.
According to the recent MORI public attitudes survey, public satisfaction with the NHS is at a record high of 75 per cent, with dissatisfaction at a record low of just 14 per cent. This is incredible and much of this is down to you.
As GPs, you are the natural gateway to the NHS. For millions of people you are the National Health Service. The Health Bill gives you the encouragement, the tools and the support to improve the quality of care you give still further.