NHS staff will have to give greater priority to patients’ requests for food, drink, pain relief and the chance to have a wash under guidelines intended to improve hospital care.
The National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) drew up its quality standard and guidance after care, especially over elderly patients’ nutritional needs and privacy, was criticised in reports by the NHS ombudsman, Care Quality Commission, Age UK and Patients Association.
The guidance is intended to help ensure patients are treated with compassion, dignity and respect and that they have more of a say about how they are treated.
Patients should get the chance to “discuss their health beliefs, concerns and preferences in order to individualise their care”, said a Nice spokeswoman. It also specifies that patients should have their physical needs – such as nutrition, hydration, personal hygiene and pain relief – and psychological concerns, such as fear and anxiety, assessed. They should also be reminded that they can choose, accept or decline treatment.
Nice’s clinical guidance also wants health professionals to “develop an understanding of the patient as an individual, including how the condition affects the person, and how the person’s circumstances and experiences affect their condition and treatment”.
They should also “ensure that the patient’s personal needs – for example, relating to continence, personal hygiene and comfort – are regularly reviewed and addressed [and] regularly ask patients who are unable to manage their personal needs what help they need [and] address their needs at the time of asking and ensure maximum privacy”.
Jeremy Taylor, chief executive of National Voices, a coalition of health and social care charities, warned that NHS staff may not always follow Nice’s advice. “Patient experience is sometimes seen as the soft, fluffy side of healthcare but in fact it is a fundamental aspect of quality.
“Nice is far from being a soft, fluffy organisation so these documents will carry weight. But we know that Nice advice is not always followed,” said Taylor, who said publicity and staff training were needed.
Dr Peter Carter, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Patient care and safety are at the heart of good nursing practice and ensuring that patient needs around nutrition, hydration, pain relief and hygiene are met is crucial.
“These standards are significant in showing what good care should look like and how it should feel for the patient, putting their needs at the centre of any treatment received.”
Lord Howe, the health minister, said everyone admitted to hospital deserved to be treated with compassion and dignity. “The guidance published by Nice will encourage doctors and nurses to listen to the individual needs and concerns of their patients to improve their experience. This will ensure patients have a stronger voice and there is ‘no decision about me, without me’,” he said.