Proposed changes to NHS access standards must be achievable and ensure best care for patients

04 March 2020

A report by NHS Providers says any changes to access standards must command broad support from patients, the public, politicians, clinicians and trust leaders. The review, led by NHS England and NHS Improvement, is examining proposed changes across urgent and emergency care, elective care, cancer care and mental health and the latest set of findings is expected later this month.

The new report, Setting good standards for NHS patient care, says there are good grounds for regularly reviewing the use of these standards, with a strong clinical focus. But it argues that the standards are used for a wide range of purposes including the organisation of front line care delivery, planning, performance management, oversight and accountability and any review needs to take full account of these purposes as well.

The report argues that, given how central the standards are to the day to day operation of the NHS, any changes must be accompanied by a clear, costed and fully funded implementation plan with a realistic timetable.

 

The report argues that, given how central the standards are to the day to day operation of the NHS, any changes must be accompanied by a clear, costed and fully funded implementation plan with a realistic timetable.

   

The briefing sets out the key conditions to ensure the success of any new proposed standards:

The constitutional standards currently cover a range of NHS access points, including urgent and emergency care services (both ambulances and A&E), diagnostic testing, planned and routine operations and cancer screening and treatment and a few narrowly focused in mental health. The review is developing new standards covering a broad range of mental health services. 

 

It must be clear that the changes are not an attempt to abandon the performance levels expected in the current standards, and there is a fully funded plan to recover performance to those levels.

   


 NHS Providers deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery said:

"We fully support the clinical focus that this review of access standards has been given.  To date targets have played a crucial role in reducing delays and contributing to safe high quality care so it’s right to look at whether the targets we have today are still clinically relevant and work in the best interests of patients and service users, treating those most unwell most quickly while ensuring everyone has access to timely care.

"But we have to be realistic about the capacity of trusts to implement new standards at a time when they are facing unprecedented levels of demand and performance at its lowest since the existing standards were first introduced. It’s vital that the public understand why changes are being made now and that the current standards are not being scrapped because they can’t be met. 

 

We have to be realistic about the capacity of trusts to implement new standards at a time when they are facing unprecedented levels of demand and performance at its lowest since the existing standards were first introduced.

   


“Alongside considering the capacity needed for the implementation, there are also a number of major operational factors that have to be taken into consideration and will need funding. These include changes to the workforce, which may include additional staff to collect and report on a wider range of standards, and crucially ensuring all trusts are supported to put the required digital capability and infrastructure in place." 

"We very much welcome the inclusion of new mental health standards, which are a step towards ensuring parity of esteem for mental health services and supporting new care models. Trusts have also told us they welcome the ambition to speed up diagnostics and improve care for cancer patients. However, trusts will need investment in staffing and facilities to deliver the ambitions set out in both these new sets of standards.  

"Ultimately given the fundamental and multiple functions the current standards play within the NHS – it is vital we build a broad consensus and take the time to collectively get this right."

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