‘Biological sex matters’, says NHS Constitution proposal

The government has proposed updates to the NHS constitution, including changes to the process of requesting same-sex wards and care.

The government has proposed updates to the NHS Constitution, including changes to the process of requesting same-sex wards and care.

In a new release today (30 April), the government said ‘biological sex matters’ when providing care for different sexes.

As a result, the constitution proposal outlines how it will meet ‘the different biological needs of the sexes’ and what patients can expect from NHS services in meeting these needs.

The government added that illnesses or conditions that impact sexes differently should be clearly and accurately communicated.

What is the NHS Constitution?

The NHS Constitution for England is a document outlining the rights of patients and staff. It was last updated in 2015 and has to be updated at least every 10 years by the Secretary of State.

The consultation will be the first stage of a review of the constitution, running for eight weeks.

The government will consider responses from everyone, including the public, clinicians and medical professionals.

The proposed changes include empowering patients to request that intimate care is performed by a member of the same-sex where reasonably possible.

In addition, the updated NHS constitution would reinforce its commitment to providing same-sex wards. This would involve it being permissible under the Equality Act 2010 to place transgender patients in single-room accommodation if requested by a patient.

The proposed updates also include:

  • ‘Embedding the commitment for patients and their family members in acute and specialist settings to initiate a rapid review of care from outside their initial care team, where the patient’s condition is deteriorating. Not only does this provide a boost to patient safety, but it also puts patients at the heart of their own care
  • Ensuring the health system works together to understand the needs of different groups within each community and reduce disparities in access, experience and outcomes for all
  • Strengthening responsibilities on patients to cancel or reschedule appointments and on the NHS to communicate appointment information clearly
  • Making clear that patients can expect their physical and mental health care to be person-centred, co-ordinated and tailored to their needs
  • Reinforcing the NHS’s commitment to unpaid carers.’

According to The Telegraph, the updates to the NHS Constitution will also include changes to use of gender neutral language in medical settings. Terms such as ‘chestfeeding’ and ‘people with ovaries’ will reportedly be prohibited with the aim of using language based on biological sex.

‘Putting patients first’

Victoria Atkins is health and social care secretary. She said: ‘We want to make it abundantly clear that if a patient wants same-sex care they should have access to it wherever reasonably possible. 

‘We have always been clear that sex matters and our services should respect that.

‘By putting this in the NHS Constitution we’re highlighting the importance of balancing the rights and needs of all patients to make a healthcare system that is faster, simpler and fairer for all.’

Minister for women’s health strategy Maria Caulfield said: ‘Updating the NHS Constitution is crucial to ensuring the principles underpinning our NHS work for everyone.

‘This is about putting patients first, giving them the dignity and respect that they deserve when they are at their most vulnerable.

‘Our plans include accommodating requests for same-sex intimate care and respecting single-sex wards. We’ll also recognise the important role of patients’ loved ones in raising concerns about their care.’

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