rime Minister Gordon Brown has promised new rights for National Health Service patients under the draft legislative programme Building Britain’s Future, which lays out a whole set of public reforms designed to build a “stronger, fairer and more prosperous” country.

In his statement to the Commons yesterday, Brown pledged that NHS patients will be given “enforceable rights to high standards of care” to replace current centrally-driven targets, including the right to see a cancer specialist within two weeks, hospital treatment within 18 weeks and free health checks for people aged 40-74.

In addition, the PM said ministers will look for areas in which new rights could be established, for example regarding extended GP access, individual healthcare budgets for patients with long-term illnesses and possibly the right to choose to die at home under the new end of life care strategy.

Furthermore, he said the Health Secretary Andy Burnham will bring forward proposals to strengthen the NHS’ focus on disease prevention and early intervention, extend patient choice with regard to the time and place of treatment, and reform maternity and early years’ services.

Brown also said ministers will also consult on “far-reaching proposals for how we need to modernise our health and social care systems so that our country can meet the challenge of an ageing society”.

Little impact?
But the new measures have seemingly failed to impress the British Medical Association, which claims they will have little impact, reports BBC News Online. A BMA spokesman also told PharmaTimes UK News that the “vast majority” of patients referred by a GP to a cancer specialist already see one within two weeks, and that “further improvements will depend on an expansion in numbers of consultants”.

And while Cancer Research UK applauded the inclusion of the two-week deadline, its chief executive Harpal Kumar said the government “will have a greater impact on cancer survival if they focused their energy on improving early detection, when treatment is often milder and more effective”.

Last year the charity revealed that as many as 11,000 deaths from cancer could be prevented every year if Britain raised its survival figures to match those of the best performing countries in Europe. “We believe that the most important reasons for the survival gap include poor awareness of the symptoms of cancer, late presentation to a GP and, late onward referral to hospital [and] we urge the government to accelerate its efforts in this area to reduce the number of people needlessly dying from cancer in Britain”, Kumar stressed.