Know your rights (a bit long, this)

Well, at least some of your rights.

One recurrent theme in postings here is the patient who is not properly informed. The one who does not get a copy of the letter from consultant to GP. The one who gets told that they cannot see what someone wrote about them. The one who gets quoted a large fee (I have even heard £55 being quoted) for a copy of their records, when all they wanted was to look at them. So, let’s get things clear – as an NHS patient, you have some absolute rights to a whole lot of the information about yourself. There may be a charge for copies of some of it, but that is a separate problem. What you need first is a copy of the NHS Constitution and the Handbook to the Constitution – and you need the 2012 editions of both of them. Go to:

and download both of them.

Now you can start. The layout is actually simple in a way that so many official documents are (yeah, right).
The Constitution spells out your rights – but in a general sort of way.
The Handbook details what each right really means (well, sort-of).
The Appendix – at the end of the Handbook – is the place to look for the exact words that spell out your right.

As an example:
Right of access to your records is on P8 of the Constitution, is detailed on P45 of the Handbook, but the actual source of your right is on p130 of the appendix.

Now, a few random thoughts of my own:

  • Some of your rights are promised but may not yet be enacted. You need to read the whole sequence to spot this, but if I were asking to see something, I would quote the bit where it said “I could” rather than the bit where it said “not yet”. Just chech the example for yourself.

  • Copies of records can be charged for, but if I were asking, I would be holding a USB memory stick, and a blank CD in my hand at the time. I mean, who wants a great big wodge of paper when a computer file can be dumped in seconds.

In most cases, you will be asking a receptionist (or a consultant’s secretary), so how you ask could make a difference. The trick is to make it easy for them to say Yes. “How can I have a copy …” “Is it easier to have a copy put on a memory stick or a CD?” “do I have to apply in writing or can I just ask you?” could all be more productive than “I WANT”

Remember that it is only the more recent records that are on computer, and some systems work in a non-logical manner. Some GPs will have copies of letters scanned, and the letter attached to your records as a picture file. You may not have a program that can read the particular computer file; (in this case, I think I would ask for a copy anyway, knowing that if I could not actually read it, I know a man who could)

These two publications will cover a lot of the NHS-related questions that come up here from time to time, but you want to watch the wording. Both documents are PDF files so that you can search them on computer, but the obvious words will not always work. Take the problem that come up regularly – a patient who does not get proper attention from their GP, and may want to change to another.
In the Constitution it is under “Patients and the Public – Your rights … “

  • In the Handbook it come under “Informed Choice”

So, the bottom line is – download the two documents, read them, and make sure that you know your rights.