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The NHS Constitution

The NHS Constitution describes the values and enduring principles of the NHS, what it stands for and the commitments it should live up to.
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The NHS belongs to us all, taking care of us and our family members when we need it the most.

The NHS Constitution was created to protect the principles of the NHS and empower patients, public and staff by setting out, for the first time in one place, existing legal rights and pledges.

It is a 10-year plan to provide the highest quality of service for patients in England and brings together what staff, patients and the public can expect from the NHS in one document.

It captures the purpose, principles and values of the NHS and comprises a number of rights, pledges and responsibilities for staff and patients.

These were the result of extensive consultations with staff, the public and patients – and reflect their top priorities. 

All NHS bodies, and private and third-sector providers supplying NHS services in England, are required by law to take account of the Constitution in their actions.

What does it mean for me?

The NHS Constitution sets out your rights as an NHS patient. These cover how you access health services, the quality of care you receive, the treatment available to you, confidentiality and your right to complain if things go wrong.

Choice of hospital

If your GP refers you to see a consultant, you can usually choose the hospital you go to. You may want to pick one with better results for your treatment or one near family. Read our Choose and Book page for more details.

Involvement in decision-making

You have the right to be involved in decisions about your own personal healthcare and when the NHS is planning new services or making changes to existing services. Visit our Talk to us section to get involved, or visit our Public engagement and consultation page to find out more.

Your health records

You can view your own health records and don't have to give a reason to see them. Talk to your GP or contact your Customer Service Unit.  You can also find out more about how your health records are managed on our Health records page.

Legal right to maximum waiting times

Since 1 April 2010, patients have had the legal right to maximum waiting times to start treatment by a consultant within 18 weeks of GP referral, and to be seen by a cancer specialist within 2 weeks of GP referral. Our Waiting Times page has more information about this. If you are dissatisfied with how your request has been handled, please contact NHS West Sussex Customer Service Unit.

Privacy and dignity

You should always be treated with dignity and respect. This means, for example, that your right to privacy should be respected. If you stay in hospital, you should not have to share bathroom or sleeping facilities with people of the opposite sex, except when you need urgent or specialised care. Read our Same-Sex Accommodation page for more.


You have the right to have any complaint you make about the NHS dealt with efficiently and investigated properly. If you're not sure where to start, your Customer Service Unit can help.

The NHS's promise to you

The NHS Constitution makes certain pledges which go above and beyond your legal rights and are a commitment to provide high-quality health services.  For example:

  • The NHS commits to provide convenient, easy-to-access services. More than three-quarters of GP surgeries now offer extended opening hours.
  • The NHS commits to inform you about local and national healthcare services. Visit the Services section of this website to find out what services are available and where.
  • The NHS commits to ensure its services are delivered in a clean and safe environment.

You can see all the pledges the NHS makes to patients by downloading the NHS Constitution (see the link in the right-hand column).

What the NHS needs from you

The NHS is a valuable resource and we can all help it work effectively and ensure resources are used responsibly. The NHS Constitution explains the ways in which you can do this, including:

  1. Recognising that you can make a significant contribution to your and your family's health and wellbeing, and taking personal responsibility for your health where you can.
  2. Registering with a GP practice. You can search for GP practices and other NHS services on this website.
  3. Following courses of treatment you've agreed to.
  4. Always treating NHS staff and other patients with respect.
  5. Keeping GP and hospital appointments - or if you have to cancel, doing so in good time.
  6. Giving feedback – both positive and negative – about treatment you've received.  In West Sussex you can do this by contacting our Customer Service Unit.