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Know Your Rights Within The NHS

Everyone who is cared for by the NHS in England has formal rights to make choices about the service that they receive. These include the right to choose a GP surgery, to state which GP you’d like to see, to choose which hospital you’re treated at, and to receive information to support your choices.

These rights form part of the NHS Constitution, and are explained below. This page contains links to other pages on this site, which will explain how to exercise these rights and make the best choices for you.

“You have the right to choose your GP surgery, and to be accepted by that practice unless there are reasonable grounds to refuse, in which case you will be informed of those reasons.”

You can choose which GP surgery you’d like to register with. That GP surgery must accept you unless there are good reasons for not doing so, for example, you live outside the boundaries that it has agreed with the local primary care trust (PCT), or because it has no spaces left. Whatever the reason, the surgery must tell you why. If you can’t register with your preferred GP surgery, the NHS will help you find another one.

“You have the right to express a preference for using a particular doctor within your GP surgery, and for the surgery to try to comply.”

Within your GP surgery, you have the right to say which particular GP you’d like to see. Your GP surgery will try to give you your choice, but there may be good reasons why you can’t see your preferred GP.

“You have the right to make choices about your NHS care, and to receive information to support these choices. The options available to you will develop over time and depend on your individual needs.”

This is a new legal right. Your right to choose will develop as choice is extended into other areas.

Currently, you have the right to choose the organisation that provides your NHS care when you’re referred for your first outpatient appointment with a service that’s led by a consultant. There the following exceptions:

Persons excluded:

  • persons detained under the Mental Health Act 1983,
  • military personnel, and
  • prisoners.

Services excluded:

  • where speedy diagnosis and treatment is particularly important, e.g.:
    -emergency attendances/admissions,
    -attendances at a Rapid Access Chest Pain Clinic under the two-week maximum
    waiting time, and
    -attendance at cancer services under the two-week maximum waiting time,
  • maternity services, and
  • mental health services.

Use Find and choose services to find hospitals and compare what they offer.

Choosing a hospital contains information to help you make the right selection.
If you’re not offered a choice of hospital, talk to your GP first. If you’re still not given a choice, contact your primary care trusts Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS). Use Find and choose services to find details of your PCT and PALS.

You have a right to information where there is a legal right to choice. Currently, this gives you a right to information to support you in choosing your provider when you are referred for your first outpatient appointment with a service led by a consultant. Information to help you make your choice can be found on NHS Choices. PCTs are expected to promote this information and make it more accessible to patients.”

The NHS is also committed to:

  • informing you about the healthcare services available to you, locally and
    nationally, and
  • offering you easily accessible, reliable and relevant information to enable you to participate fully in your own healthcare decisions and to support you in making choices. This will include robust and accurate information where available on the quality of clinical services.

Use Find and choose services to find information on NHS service providers.

See a full list of your rights, and commitments made by the NHS, in the NHS Constitution (PDF, 2.28mb).

You have the right to be involved in discussions and decisions about your healthcare, and to be given information to enable you to do this.

Your doctor should listen to you and respond to your concerns and preferences about your healthcare. That way, you can find out what’s the best treatment for you. NHS staff will give you the information that you need to support these discussions and decisions.

You can read more about this right in treatment choices.

You have the right to accept or refuse treatment that is offered to you, and not to be given any physical examination or treatment unless you have given valid consent. If you do not have the capacity to do so, consent must be obtained from a person legally able to act on your behalf, or the treatment must be in your best interests.

Your valid consent (agreement to the course of action) is needed for the treatment that’s offered to you before any physical examinations or treatment can be given. If you haven’t given your consent, you can accept or refuse treatment that’s offered to you. If you’re unable to give your consent (e.g. you’re unconscious or not of sane mind), consent can be given on your behalf (for example, by the parent of a child).

There are some cases where a court will decide what is in the persons best interest. Consent may be more complex for people with mental disabilities. Further detail is set out in the Mental Capacity Act 2005. The Mental Health Act 1983 also sets out limited circumstances in which a person may, subject to specified safeguards, be treated for their mental disorder without consent.

If you’re detained in hospital or on supervised community treatment under the Act, any special rules that apply to your treatment will be explained to you at the time.
Read more about exercising this right in our section on treatment choices.


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