Improving the dignity of older patients is “probably the most important” priority for the NHS next year, its chief executive has told Nursing Times.
Sir David Nicholson’s comments marked the publication of guidance on how the health service should be run during the next financial year, beginning in April.
NHS providers must “systematically” improve standards of dignity and care for patients, including ensuring staff are appropriately trained to do so, according to the NHS operating framework for 2012-13.
The document, published this afternoon, sets out the government’s priorities for the health service during 2012-13 and how they should be achieved.
The operating framework specifically identifies dementia and care of older people as an area “requiring particular attention during 2012-13”.
It said this was in response to “worrying examples” of unacceptable standards in the Care Quality Commission’s report on dignity and nutrition standards published last month.
In an exclusive interview to coincide with the release of the guidance, NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson told Nursing Times that “dignity in care of vulnerable people” was “probably the most important [priority] for us”.
He said: “There’s been some criticism of the NHS over the last period. There is quite a lot of evidence around that some of the care is variable and not up to the standards we’d expect.
“We need to do a whole series of things to help people provide care for vulnerable people,” he said.
The operating framework stated that “caring for patients with dignity and humanity goes to the heart of the purpose of the NHS”, and that there was a “systematic set of things” the NHS needs to do to improve services for older people.
For example, it said commissioners – currently primary care trusts but which in future will be clinical commissioning groups – should ensure NHS service providers are compliant with National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence quality standards relevant to older patients and dementia.
Additionally it stated: “PCT clusters should ensure that all providers have a systematic approach to improving dignity in care for patients, to giving staff appropriate training and to incorporating learning from the experience of patients and carers into their work.”
It also said commissioners should work with GP practices to “secure ongoing improvements” in the quality of primary care and community services, so that “patients only go into hospital if that will secure the best clinical outcome”.
Additionally, the framework restated the government’s goal of a two thirds reduction in the use of antipsychotic medicines, but it suggested there had been a softening on this aim.
In October last year, health minister Paul Burstow said the DH was committed to reducing the use of antipsychotics prescribed to people with dementia by two thirds by November 2011.
The operating framework said the NHS needed to engage in “initiatives to reduce inappropriate antipsychotic prescribing for people with dementia…. with a view to achieving overall a two thirds reduction in the use of antipsychotic medicines”, but set no new deadline.
The framework also said the NHS service providers would be required to continue their “drive to eliminate” mixed sex accommodation, and ensure they participated in national clinical audits relating to services for older people.