Journal of Medical Ethics 4 (4):186-194 (1978)

Publicity for (and laterly increased economic stringency which makes more likely), failures of care in the NHS engender concern for care quality while its assurance remains the subject of a fragmented and unhelpful literature. A selective attempt is made to examine some underlying principles by posing and answering three questions. What is the quality of care? What basic principles must be followed in defining `standards'? How then may quality be assured? Any definition of care must be multi-faceted and in common use pervaded with the patients' pre-occupation with a search for cures. Nevertheless, it is argued that there are gains in restricting the technical use of the term `care' to those systematic processes of health services and their culture which impinge on the personal experience of patients and which fashion their response. In contemporary society care ought to be designed to restore and enhance the independence, dignity and choice of the patient. Although there is a contrary tendency to abandon problems of care to the professionals, standards for care should be judged ultimately not from the specialised professional but from the viewpoint of lay people whose behaviour in the outside world fashions those norms by which independence, dignity and choice are judged. A number of difficulties in identifying and securing improvements in care are discussed. In particular, it is argued that such is the interdependence of the style of management of an institution and the style of care it provides that enforcement of high quality care is likley to be a contradiction in terms. Only trained and sensitive staff can act intuitively and pre-emptively to prevent even incipient deterioration in care. They cannot carefully foster at all times the independence and dignity of their patients unless they are treated in a similar way as professional employees. As an initial step in improving the quality of care a simple start is urged upon implementing an inventory of checks. These are designed to establish the identification and operation of health care policies and practices which give appropriate recognition to the characteristics of care that patients and public expect, coming as they do from a lay rather than professional world. The article concludes with an appropriate inventory of questions to be put to professionals by those laymen who are increasingly imported into health care management through community representation (in CHCs) and staff participation (in joint consultation) and whose interest and concern should be harnessed appropriately
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DOI 10.1136/jme.4.4.186
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