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SEP 08/2014

An in-depth look at the new fundamental standards for NHS care

In line with the government's ongoing efforts to reform NHS services, healthcare professionals across the UK will soon be expected to conform to new fundamental standards unveiled last month by the Department of Health.

Coming as part of ongoing efforts to transform NHS organisational culture in the wake of the recent Francis Inquiry, the standards will be put in place in April 2015 - subject to parliamentary approval - and will set out a new list of safety and quality guidelines.

Since these fundamental standards will be legally binding, it is vital that doctors and nurses make themselves aware of the full implications of the changes before they come into effect.

The full list of standards
Among the first of the new fundamental standards were two new legal safeguards announced several months ago, which are set to introduced later this year. A legal duty of candour will require all medical staff to be open and transparent with service users about their care and treatment, including proactively offering clear explanations when mistakes occur.

This - in addition to fit and proper persons requirements for directors - will be introduced for NHS providers from October 2014, before being extended to all providers by April 2015.

The remainder of the new standards will come into effect en masse next April, and include the following stipulations:

  • that care and treatment is appropriate and reflective of patient needs and preferences
  • that service users are treated with dignity and respect
  • that care and treatment are provided only when consent has been attained, and in a safe way
  • that service users are protected from abuse, and their nutritional and hydration needs are met
  • that all premises and equipment used in the provision of care are clean, secure, suitable and properly utilised
  • that any complaints are appropriately investigated, with appropriate action taken in response
  • that sufficient numbers of qualified, competent, skilled and experienced staff are deployed at all times
  • that all medical staff are of good character, are properly qualified, have the right skills and experience, and are able to perform the work for which they are employed

How they will work in practice
The government intends these new fundamental standards to define a basic threshold for safety and quality that should always be met, with organisations that fail to do so being met with criminal penalties in some cases.

As such, the Care Quality Commission will be incorporating these new guidelines into its regulation and inspection of care providers, with outliers to be held to account.

Changes are coming in response to feedback the government received via a series of consultations that followed its response to the Francis Inquiry, with stakeholders largely supporting the idea of more stringent regulations governing care quality.

The renewed emphasis on safe staffing levels will also be welcomed by those in the industry that have been calling for additional recruitment within the NHS, in order to meet the needs of an increasingly demanding patient population. The new standards will go hand-in-hand with the new laws mandating regular reporting of hospital staffing statistics, ensuring medical facilities always have the right quantity and balance of skilled workers on hand. 

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