The government is planning to introduce a health bill to Parliament that will require further investment in IT and new information services for the public, the Queen’s speech has confirmed.
The National Health Service Reform Bill will give the NHS its first, ever written constitution, drive forward the government’s quality and choice agendas, and strengthen primary care trusts’ commissioning powers, while requiring them to become more responsive to their communities.
A draft NHS constitution was published alongside the final report of Lord Darzi’s Next Stage Review of the NHS this summer. It sets out the principles and values of the NHS and sets out rights and responsibilities for the public.
The proposed rights include “access to your own health records” and that these “will always be used to manage your treatment in your best interests.” They also include a right to choose a GP and to make choices about further treatment.
The latter rights are backed up by a number of pledges; that the NHS will “strive” to give patients information about the choices open to them, that it will “include information on the quality of clinical services where there is robust and accurate information” and that it will share letters with patients.
Some of the rights and pledges in the constitution appear to depend on initiatives on which slow progress has been made to date. A commitment to copy clinical letters to patients was first made in the NHS Plan in 2000.
Just four primary care trusts are running pilots of the NHS Summary Care Record, which can be viewed through the Health Space online organiser. And figures released by the Department of Health this week show that recollection of a choice of hospital remains stuck at around 50%.
However, Lord Darzi’s report and the Health Informatics Review that followed it outlined plans for a number of new patient and clinician information services; and a business case for a revamp of Health Space is with the Treasury.
Other proposed rights in the constitution include being able to seek treatment in Europe in response to an EU directive on which the Department of Health is consulting. This would also require new patient information portals – and possibly patient records – to be created.
More controversially, although the constitution includes a new right to privacy and confidentiality, it would also make it easier for researchers to access patient information in order to recruit patients to trials. This was attacked by the new chair of the National Information Governance Board for Health and Social Care, Harry Cayton, last month.
A bill to give a wide range of public bodies, including health authorities, access to information about personal internet use did not appear in the Queen’s speech. However, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has indicated that the Data and Communications Bill could still proceed after a three month consultation announced in October.
Other bills in the Queen’s speech to have some impact on health include the Policing and Crime Bill, which will criminalise paying for sex with trafficked women and introduce new measures to tackle binge-drinking, the Child Poverty Bill, which reaffirms the government’s target of ending child poverty by 2010, and the Coroners and Justice Bill, which will reform the inquest system.