The NHS Constitution is to be reviewed and "revitalised," Ministers have announced.
This summer, the government will publish a review looking at the impact which the Constitution has had in assuring patients' rights to be treated with respect and humanity, to have access to drugs approved by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) and to make choices about their NHS care.
A new expert panel will be formed as part of the NHS Future Forum to advise Health Secretary Andrew Lansley as to whether there is any scope for strengthening the Constitution and, together with the new duties included in the Health and Social Care Bill, this will strengthen both the content of the Constitution and the role it plays in the NHS, says the Department of Health.
Moreover, a public consultation this autumn will give patients and staff the opportunity to have their say about what can be done to improve and reinforce the Constitution. Any amendments to the Constitution would then come into effect by April 2013..
The new expert working group - which is made up of medical professionals, patient champions, staff representatives and charities - held its first meeting at the end of last week, to begin its consideration of what effect the NHS Constitution has had since it was launched in 2009.
"I believe in the NHS Constitution, which enshrines the principles which will always hold true for the NHS," said Mr Lansley. "This isn't about starting from scratch - this is about revitalising these rights and pledges. Patients are at the centre of our reforms, and with the help of the independent panel we will look to strengthen the NHS Constitution to make sure it is working for the benefit of patients and staff."
Professor Steve Field, leader of the NHS Futures Forum and who will also chair the new independent working group, added: "the experience and - crucially - the independence of the group will ensure a thoroughly professional and balanced insight into what effect the NHS Constitution has made and how it can be improved."
Pulse magazine has reported that the Future Forum's third report to government will consider how the Constitution, which guarantees access to all drugs approved by NICE, is understood and being used by patients.
"The move comes after the Department of Health drew up a 'compliance regime' to ensure commissioners add drugs to formularies within 90 days of NICE approval," says Pulse.
The magazine also quotes Prof Field as saying: "one right is for patients to have NICE-approved treatments, but we won't be looking in detail at that in the first phase until July."
The government has this month published a new Constitution commitment, to support whistle-blowing and tackle poor patient care. It requires NHS staff to raise concerns at the earliest opportunity, be supported by managers and have claims fully investigated.
* The Health Act 2009 requires the Secretary of State to publish a report on "how the NHS Constitution has affected patients, staff, carers and members of the public" every three years. The first report must be published by July 5, 2012.