Waiting times and health checks on the NHS

The NHS consti­tu­tion has been around since January 2009.

It’s a prom­ise from the NHS to you that they will look after you prop­erly, and that you have a right to be looked after well when you need to use NHS services like hospit­als, doctors and dent­ists.

It’s taken a while to get there, but from January 2010 all the differ­ent organ­isa­tions that make up the NHS will have to pay special atten­tion to what it says when they make their decisions about how you’re going to get medical care.

The NHS Constitution gives you the right to:

  • free health­care, except what the govern­ment says you should pay
  • high stand­ards when you need advice or treat­ment
  • access medi­cines, as long as they’ve been prop­erly approved
  • fair and equal treat­ment, no favour­it­ism
  • refuse treat­ment if you want
  • under­stand what your options are
  • choose who you want to be your doctor
  • have a say in the treat­ment and care you get

The govern­ment says it’s ready to add some more rights for you.

The right to not wait longer than 18 weeks for the medical care you need, and only 2 weeks if the doctor thinks you might have cancer. You may still need to wait longer if it’s important to wait for the good of your health.

You would have this right from April 2010.

The govern­ment doesn’t want this to be an excuse for people to sue the NHS whenever the wait­ing time goes over the limit. Instead they want it to be a way for people who’ve waited too long to get seen as quickly as possible.

If you do end up wait­ing too long, without agree­ing it with your doctor first, then when you tell the NHS about it they will legally have to get you the appoint­ment you need, or find another way.

This doesn’t apply if you miss your appoint­ments, though. It’s your respons­ib­il­ity to make sure you turn up or cancel them in plenty of time if you can’t get to them.

Understanding wait­ing times

  • The govern­ment wants to help you under­stand how long you should expect getting treat­ment to take, and they’re think­ing about giving out treat­ment plans so you can under­stand what you have to do.
  • They’re also worried that in urgent cases like cancer, although doctors might have a very good reason for not explain­ing that you need to see a special­ist quickly, so you get less stressed and worried by it, this some­times means that people put off their appoint­ments, which could be danger­ous.
  • The govern­ment says that if there’s a major national or local prob­lem, for example a flu pandemic, NHS services would be allowed to have longer wait­ing times.

If you’re over 40 years old but younger than 75, you would get the right to a health check every five years. This health check would test you for common problems – heart disease, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease and more.


Everyone would have this right from April 2012.

As part of the check, the doctor or nurse who give you the check would also help you with things like keep­ing healthy, how to get to and keep to the right weight, and how to stop smoking as all these things help make you less likely to get the diseases they’re check­ing for.

They’ll also be able to sort you out with medical treat­ments like stat­ins, which help lower choles­terol.

The government also wants to talk about what rights they should be thinking about for the future.

  • In the government’s last survey, a lot of people thought that being tied to a GP surgery because you live in a partic­u­lar area wasn’t very useful, so the govern­ment is already getting rid of that.
  • People also thought that if doctor’s surger­ies opened on even­ings and week­ends then life would be much easier for them. The govern­ment wants to think about making this part of the NHS consti­tu­tion.
  • The NHS thinks it can give every­one access to an NHS dent­ist by March 2011. When they hit that target, the govern­ment wants to think about putting it in the NHS consti­tu­tion.
  • There are a few pilot schemes around where people just like you are being given the money to get the care they want. When these pilot schemes have finished and the govern­ment has seen the results, they’ll look at putting it in the NHS consti­tu­tion.
  • When you’re at the end of your life, you might want to spend that time at home instead of in a hospital. There’s lots of things to sort out about how the NHS helps people cope with death before we get to this, but the govern­ment hopes they’ll be in the right place to look at it by 2013.
  • The govern­ment also says that in 2011 and 2012 they want to set a new stand­ard of a week (maximum two weeks) so you can get cancer tests and results done more quickly.
  • They also want every region in England to have a Constitution Champion who can help make hospit­als and surger­ies ready for ques­tions about the consti­tu­tion and patient rights, and who knows the consti­tu­tion inside out so they can help patients under­stand their rights and respons­ib­il­it­ies.

That’s great / really good / really bad / could do with improvement – but what can I do about it?


Get your ideas, comments, ques­tions and obser­va­tions to the Department of Health by 5 February 2010:

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Corinne Pritchard

Corinne Pritchard

Information Designer at Simply Understand
I believe design and design­ers can and should make the world a better place. I love design­ing things that help people under­stand complex ideas.
Corinne Pritchard

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