The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has this week kicked off the process for producing a set of quality standards for four different clinical areas referred by the Department of Health.

The Institute, which vets treatments destined for the NHS in England on Wales in terms of cost-effectiveness, was last year handed a new responsibility of setting and producing independent quality standards for clinicians by Sir Ara Darzi in his report High Quality Care for All.

The move is designed to help quality become the central focus of NHS operations by providing healthcare professionals with a set of standards that clearly show what high quality looks like in terms of patient safety, clinical effectiveness and patient experience, allowing them to benchmark performance and make improvements where necessary and thus improve the overall standard of care.

On advice from the newly-established National Quality Board - a multi-stakeholder group tasked with ensuring alignment in quality throughout the health service - the DH has requested that the Institute produce the first batch of quality standards for stroke, dementia, neonatal care and venous thromboembolism.

Using a pilot process, these standards will be developed drawing on expertise from a temporary Topic Expert Group made of clinical and public health experts, Royal Colleges, specialist societies, lay members, commissioners and service providers, explained Val Moore, NICE Implementation Director. In addition, NICE plans to consult on the development process (later this year) as well field test the draft standards before publication, which is scheduled for early next year, he added.

Four-yearly review
A spokesman for the Institute also confirmed to PharmaTimes UK News that, in order to ensure that the standards remain up-to-date, it is anticipated that they will undergo a review every four years, in line with its approach to clinical guidelines and public health guidance. However, “should the evidence base change substantially before then there may be the opportunity to bring forward the review,” he explained.

According to NHS Medical Director Bruce Keogh, the quality standards “will give patients and NHS and Social Care staff absolute clarity on what high quality care in these four areas looks like [and] will set the course for the development of a library of quality standards”.

Furthermore, national agencies concerned with quality and safety of NHS services, such as the Quality Care Commission, will likely be interested in NICE quality standards as they develop their policies and methods over the coming year, the spokesman said.