Top healthcare rights

It’s good to know some of the main rights in the NHS Constitution. You have the right:

  • to use NHS services without being discriminated against, for example because of your age or a disability
  • to see a specialist within 18 weeks of your GP referring you for a non-urgent problem. If this isn’t possible, the NHS should take all reasonable steps to offer alternative options
  • to see a cancer specialist within two weeks of an urgent referral from your GP
  • to be given information about your treatment options, including what they involve and the risks and benefits
  • to receive drugs and treatments that have been nationally approved for use in the NHS, if your doctor says they are right for you
  • to receive care from qualified and experienced staff working in a safe environment
  • to be treated with dignity and respect. You have the right to privacy and to refuse any physical examination or treatment
  • to be told how information about you will be used, and to expect it to be kept secure. You also have the right to see your own health records and have any mistakes corrected
  • to be involved in discussions and decisions about your healthcare. You should have things clearly and fully explained to you so that you understand all the treatment options available and any decisions made. If you don't have the mental capacity to be involved, the NHS must consult someone who is legally able to act on your behalf. If you don’t have someone who can do this, the NHS must make decisions in your best interest.

See our webpage Power of attorney for more information on appointing someone to make decisions for you.

Choosing your GP

You have the right:

  • to register with a doctor’s surgery of your choice if you live in its catchment area and it has space for new patients. If there are reasonable grounds for refusing you, you should be told what these are
  • to ask to see a particular GP at your doctor’s surgery. Where possible, they should try to accommodate this
  • to ask for a second opinion about your health from a specialist or another GP. You don’t have a right to receive a second opinion, but you won’t usually be refused one.

If your GP wants to refer you to a specialist, you'll usually have the right to choose which clinic or hospital you go to for this treatment. This choice should be offered to you when the GP is referring you to the specialist.

You can use the NHS website to compare feedback on different hospitals and consultants.

Rights at the end of life

As long as you have the mental capacity to make the decision, you usually have the right to refuse treatment except basic care, even if this could lead to your death. You may not have this right in some situations, for example, if you are subject to certain powers under the Mental Health Act 1983. 

If you have ideas about the types of treatment you would or wouldn't want at the end of your life, you could consider making an advance decision. This makes sure your wishes are followed if you lose mental capacity and you’re unable to make decisions or express your wishes about how you would like to be cared for and what medical treatment you would want. 

There may be certain situations where there are exceptions to some of these rights.

Leaving hospital

You shouldn’t be sent home from hospital until the doctor says you’re well enough and any care and support you need to be safely discharged is put in place. For more information on what to expect, see our webpage Leaving hospital.


If you don’t think you've received the care you should have done, you’re entitled to make a complaint. You have the right:

  • to have it acknowledged within three working days
  • to have it properly investigated
  • to receive an outcome.

If you’re unhappy with the outcome, you can escalate your complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. For more information, see our factsheet Complaints about health services.

Comments about your care

If you've experienced poor care, or know that poor care is being provided somewhere, you can report it to the Care Quality Commission, which regulates health and social care. You can do this anonymously. They don’t investigate individual cases but, in more serious cases, they may carry out an inspection, or use your evidence in an ongoing inspection.

You can also tell the CQC when you feel you've received good care. If you want to share your experiences and give any feedback on health and social care services, you can do so through the joint ‘Because We All Care’ campaign between Healthwatch and the CQC. By providing this information, you’ll help them improve the overall quality of care in England. You’ll also help the CQC in preventing poor care and abuse happening to others in the future. 

Next steps

You can see a copy of the NHS Constitution and guidance on how to make a complaint at

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