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Benchmarking: a new influence on patient care

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VOL: 97, ISSUE: 14, PAGE NO: 51

Mark Collier, BA, RGN, ONC, RCNT, RNT

In July 1999 the government identified its strategic intentions for nurses, midwives and health visitors in England in a document called Making a Difference - Strengthening the Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting Contribution to Health and Healthcare. Following this it was recognised by the NHS Executive that, in order to achieve the delivery of a 'first-class service', new standards of best practice needed to be identified. However, rather than these standards being exclusively the responsibility of professionals, it was decided to embark on a process that would involve both consumers and professionals - benchmarking.

In July 1999 the government identified its strategic intentions for nurses, midwives and health visitors in England in a document called Making a Difference - Strengthening the Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting Contribution to Health and Healthcare. Following this it was recognised by the NHS Executive that, in order to achieve the delivery of a 'first-class service', new standards of best practice needed to be identified. However, rather than these standards being exclusively the responsibility of professionals, it was decided to embark on a process that would involve both consumers and professionals - benchmarking.

To highlight relevant topics for inclusion in the benchmarking process, a review of a number of documentary sources was conducted. These included recorded complaints, Health Service Commissioner reports, transcripts from professional conduct committee hearings and consumer comments. Initially eight fundamental and essential aspects of care were included in the benchmarking process: privacy and dignity, personal and oral hygiene, food and nutrition, pressure ulcers, continence and bladder and bowel care, safety of clients with mental health needs in acute mental health and general hospital settings, record-keeping and principles of self-care.

The process of benchmarking, which began in earnest last spring, aimed to enable professionals to share good practice, ensure that innovative practice was highlighted, identify current best practice and enable others to achieve this, to further influence practice developments, promote effective change management, maximise time resources and to encourage both teamwork and networking within and between care settings.

Each benchmark includes an overall statement which expresses what patients want from practice. A number of factors are then listed which are required to help achieve this outcome, and for each factor a statement of best practice is highlighted. In addition, a number of other statements are identified and for each of these statements a numerical score has been attached. These should help guide practitioners when awarding their own practice a score and provide them with stepping stones that can be incorporated in their own action plan to help them achieve best practice.

In a climate of clinical governance - empowering all health care professionals to be involved in improving practice - benchmarking has the potential to allow nurses to improve their practice for the benefit of their patients, as long as they are humble enough to admit that someone else is better at something and they are wise enough to try to learn how to match or even better it. Only time will tell.

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