After significant failings of care in a range of NHS hospitals, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has published a new ‘patient standard’ to encourage doctors and nurses to treat patients with dignity, compassion and care.
Over the past 12 months, the NHS has been criticised in reports by the NHS ombudsman, Care Quality Commission, Age UK and the Patients Association.
In October 2011, a Care Quality Commission report revealed that at least 20 NHS Hospitals were breaching the Health and Social Care Act 2008 by failing to treat elderly patients without private medical cover with basic standards of care.
In January this year, data from the Office for National Statistics showed a total of 1,316 patients died thirsty or starving in UK hospitals in 2010. This figure is far higher than the 862 deaths recorded in 2000, and is an increase on the 1,292 deaths in 2009.
And just this month, two damning surveys carried out by Pulse Magazine and the Royal College of Physicians reveal that a significant number of GPs and senior doctors regard the care in their local hospital as ‘dangerously substandard’.
Although NICE is best known as the NHS drug rationing body, it also publishes clinical guidance to doctors and nurses.
NICE’s new patient standard aims to ‘ensure that patients have an excellent experience of care from the NHS’.
The quality standard advises NHS staff to give greater priority to patients’ requests for food, drink, pain relief and the chance to have a wash. Under the guidelines, patients should "have their physical and psychological needs regularly assessed and addressed".
In addition, patients should be "actively involved in shared decision making" and "made aware that they have the right to choose, accept or decline treatment".
The initiative has been welcomed by the Royal College of Nurses. Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary, said: "They are important and practical steps forward in ensuring that the NHS takes proper account of patients' experiences in care."
However, NICE clinical guidance is not binding, and it is up to NHS clinicians to take them into account. Some critics will argue that all NHS and private hospitals should treat patients with dignity, compassion and care as standard, without having to be forced by rationing bodies.
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