Revamp of NHS Constitution will reflect biological sex of patients

  • 1st May 2024

Proposed updates to the NHS Constitution for England will reflect the biological needs of patients and empower people to request same-sex wards and care, it was announced this week.

The privacy, dignity, and safety of all patients are to be embedded in how the NHS operates under a new constitution that aims to shape the principles and values of the NHS.

In the proposed changes to the NHS Constitution for England, patients will be empowered to request that intimate care is carried out by someone of the same biological sex, where reasonably possible.

An updated NHS Constitution would also reinforce the NHS’s commitment to providing single-sex wards.

Meeting needs

This includes setting out that placing transgender patients in single-room accommodation is permissible under the Equality Act 2010 when it is appropriate, such as respecting a patient’s wish to be in a single-sex ward.

In a statement the Government said it ‘has been clear that biological sex matters’.

The constitution proposal makes clear what patients can expect from NHS services in meeting their needs, including the different biological needs of the sexes.

And it says that illnesses and conditions that we know impact men and women differently should be communicated in a clear and accurate way.

The consultation also plans to embed the right for patients and their loved ones to access to a rapid review from outside the care team if the patient is deteriorating.

Under the proposals,transgender women should not be put on single-sex female NHS wards and trans men should not be housed on single-sex male wards.

Open to all

The importance of this pledge has been made clear by the tragic story of Martha Mills, who died in 2021 aged 13 after being admitted to King’s College Hospital in south London having injured her pancreas slipping on to the handlebars of her bike while cycling.

She later developed sepsis, but with better care, could have survived, an inquest found.

The consultation on the proposed changes will run for eight weeks and the Government will consider responses from all, including patients, the public, staff, and NHS organisations, before publishing a response and a new NHS Constitution.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Victoria Atkins, said: “We want to make it abundantly clear that if a patient wants same-sex care they should have access to it wherever reasonably possible.

“We have always been clear that sex matters and our services should respect that.

“By putting this in the NHS Constitution we’re highlighting the importance of balancing the rights and needs of all patients to make a healthcare system that is faster, simpler and fairer for all.”

Patients first

Additional updates the Government is proposing include:

  • Embedding the commitment for patients and their family members in acute and specialist settings to initiate a rapid review of care from outside their initial care team, where the patient’s condition is deteriorating. Not only does this provide a boost to patient safety, but it also puts patients at the heart of their own care
  • Ensuring the health system works together to understand the needs of different groups within each community and reduce disparities in access, experience and outcomes for all
  • Strengthening responsibilities on patients to cancel or reschedule appointments and on the NHS to communicate appointment information clearly
  • Making clear that patients can expect their physical and mental health care to be person-centred, co-ordinated and tailored to their needs
  • Reinforcing the NHS’s commitment to unpaid carers

Minister for Women’s Health Strategy, Maria Caulfield, said: “Updating the NHS Constitution is crucial to ensuring the principles underpinning our NHS work for everyone.

“This is about putting patients first, giving them the dignity and respect that they deserve when they are at their most vulnerable. “Our plans include accommodating requests for same-sex intimate care and respecting single-sex wards.

“We’ll also recognise the important role of patients’ loved ones in raising concerns about their care.”

Safeguarding the NHS

The constitution aims to safeguard the principles and values of the NHS and empowers staff to help improve the care it provides by setting out legal rights for patients and staff when using NHS services.

It also sets out clear expectations about the behaviour of both staff and patients, and the role they need to play in supporting the NHS.

The proposed updates will also support the Government’s mission to help people to remain in, and return to work, which reflects the important impact that work can have on a person’s health and wellbeing.

Louise Ansari, chief executive of Healthwatch England, said: “The NHS Constitution plays a crucial role in shaping the culture of our NHS and helping the public to know their rights.

“Since it first launched, it has helped to shift the balance of power from services towards patients and their families. But, with only a third of people knowing their rights, there is still a long way to go.

“Given the challenges our NHS faces, a conversation to reaffirm and raise awareness of the most-important rights to the public has never been more timely.

“We urge everyone to take part in the consultation and have their say. This is your opportunity to send a clear message about the rights you hold most dear.”

The NHS Constitution for England was last updated in 2015 and has to be updated at least every 10 years by the Secretary of State.

Keep Updated

Sign up to our weekly property newsletter to receive the latest news.