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Field: NHS Constitution needs sharper teeth

The GP charged with leading the re-shaping the NHS Constitution has warned the document is seen as ‘fine words but no teeth' and it should be strengthened to encourage patients to challenge the care they receive.

Professor STEVE FIELD, chair of the NHS Future Forum and a GP in Birmingham, said the document needed to be beefed up ‘not only in its content but also in its application'.

In a letter to health secretary Andrew Lansley, Professor Field said: ‘More than any other view expressed, it has been put to us forcibly that the Constitution amounts to "fine words but no teeth".'

‘Where the rights it contains are not lived up to, there must be an understandable, accessible and effective means of challenge and redress. We will be looking especially hard at how the constitution can be strengthened not only in its content but also in its application.'

Professor Field said the next phase of the NHS Future Forum's work would be look at how the constitution could be improved, but he warned the secretary of state: ‘This work takes place in a context very different from that in which the constitution was originally developed.

‘We have already begun to discuss many ideas and proposals for updating and extending the constitution. We will consider these with an open mind, but seek to avoid becoming tangled in an arid drafting exercise.'

In an interview with Pulse, Professor Field told GPs awareness of the constitution was increasing, but said it was important that all NHS staff and patients saw it as ‘a living document'. Click here to watch the full interview.

He said: ‘The constitution is there, and people feel it's a good idea, but how do we strengthen it, so everyone really understands it, and patients and staff really use it as  living document?'

But Dr Charles Alessi, chair of NAPC and a member of the NHS Constitution working group, warned: ‘The NHS Constitution should reflect the national offering of the NHS, but it mustn't be so prescriptive that it doesn't leave space for there to be the local flexibility and the local delivery of services.'

‘There is always the temptation to tie things down to the nth degree, but we need to let other people determine exactly how they deliver that as long as the outcomes they deliver are the ones we want.'

A DH spokesperson said: 'The Secretary of State has asked the NHS Future Forum, in the second phase of its work on the NHS Constitution, to consider how the Constitution can be strengthened and reinforced for the future – in terms of both content and awareness.'

'The NHS Future Forum will present its advice to the Government in the autumn. Following this, the Government plans to launch a public consultation on any changes.'

Click here to watch the full video interview with Professor Field.