The Government have listened to the issues that are important to the public in relation to health care services at night-time and delivered real improvements to availability and standards of services. Improvements have included:
the introduction of NHS Direct giving people a means of accessing health advice at any time and where necessary being supported to access appropriate treatment;
improved availability of out of hours pharmacy services. The Pharmacy White Paper, published in April, sets out ways in which urgent access to medicines can be further improved;
allowing general practitioners to transfer responsibility for providing out of hours services to primary care trusts (PCTs). This has given PCTs the legal responsibility and opportunity to ensure that everyone has access to consistently high quality and responsive out of hours service; and
a guide to risk-assessing hospitals at night to help ensure that hospital at night solutions are designed and implemented to provide safer patient care was jointly published by the National Patient Safety Agency and Modernisation Agency.
In addition to the service improvements that have taken place over the last 10 years, there has been a focus on assessing performance which has looked not only at service availability but also the quality of those services. In 2004 the Department published, “Standards for Better Health (National Standards Local Health and Social Care Standards and Planning Framework 2005-06—2007-08)” setting out the level of quality all organisations providing national health service care are expected to meet or aspire to across the NHS in England. Copies of this publication are available in the Library.
The current performance assessment model carried out by the independent regulator, the Healthcare Commission, includes the core standards i.e. the minimum level of quality that health care services are expected to meet. Each year, the Healthcare Commission produces the Annual Health Check detailing the outcome of this performance assessment. The Commission also regulates independent health care providers.