Our Standards and Quality Improvement team supports and promotes safety and quality in health and social care services in Ireland. We develop national standards for healthcare and for people living in residential services, such as nursing homes or centres for people with disabilities.

We develop these standards by looking at international best practice, talking to service users, staff and managers about their experiences and what they would like to improve in the services. National standards describe what each of us using a service should expect from that service.

Our Standards and Quality Improvement team also develop guidance to support providers to understand the various national standards, and to assist with implementing them.

In order to produce guidance that will support staff to meet the standards, we speak with experts, patients, families, carers, front-line staff and managers. We want to enable services users to understand what to expect from those standards. In addition, we identify and support national quality improvement initiatives.

Below is a description of some of the different types of standards and guidance we have developed or are currently developing.

National Standards for Safer Better Maternity Services

Pregnancy and childbirth are normal physiological life-changing events. While most women are healthy and well and have a straightforward pregnancy, some women require additional care and support. Maternity services must be responsive to the needs of all women.

Good maternal health and safe, high-quality maternity care impacts on the health and life chances of newborn babies, on their healthy development and their long-term health. Promoting and supporting the health of mothers and babies is vital to ensure the health and wellbeing of future generations.

Ireland’s first National Maternity Strategy (Creating a Better Future Together) was launched by the Minister for Health in January 2016. HIQA’s National Standards for Safer Better Maternity Services support the implementation of the National Maternity Strategy.

The standards sit within the overarching framework of our National Standards for Safer Better Healthcare with the aim of promoting improvements in conjunction with the new National Maternity Strategy.

Developing draft national infection prevention and control standards for community services

Healthcare-associated infections can have a huge impact on people, causing upset and anxiety, serious illness, long-term disability and death. There are also significant consequences for community services due to additional consultations, investigations and unscheduled care due to outbreaks of infection. However, a significant proportion of healthcare-associated infection is known to be avoidable if measures are taken to identify and address the work practices, equipment and environmental risks that have the potential to cause such harm. These measures are collectively referred to as infection prevention and control and describe the practice of providing safe care in a clean environment. The basic principles of infection prevention and control apply regardless of the health and social care setting.

In addition, antimicrobial resistance presents a serious global public health threat. Antimicrobial resistance occurs when a micro-organism develops resistance to an antimicrobial medication that had been originally effective for treating infections caused by it. Preventing infections from occurring in the first instance is one of the best ways to reduce the need to prescribe antimicrobial medication and prevent antimicrobial resistance.

National Standards for the prevention and control of healthcare-associated infections in acute healthcare settings

Healthcare-associated infections are infections that patients may acquire during the course of receiving treatment for other conditions within a hospital. The ongoing reduction of rates of healthcare-associated infections is one of the most important challenges facing health and social care services internationally. Reducing these infections is vital to improve the quality and safety of care for patients.

Our revised National Standards in this area are a revision of the 2009 standards. The revision incorporates the learning from HIQA’s programme of inspections against these standards across Irish hospitals. The standards are outcome-based, meaning that each standard provides a specific outcome for the service to meet.

National Standards for the Conduct of Reviews of Patient Safety Incidents

We all expect to be safe when we enter a hospital, but unfortunately incidents can and do happen. Therefore, it is critical that a comprehensive, competent and transparent review is conducted following an incident. It is also very important that there is continual good communication between the patient and his or her family and the liaison team conducting the review.

It is also important that lessons learned during the course of the review are shared with other healthcare professionals. Standards for the conduct of a review following a patient safety incident were jointly developed by HIQA and the Mental Health Commission.

Supporting People’s Autonomy — Guidance

Our Supporting People’s autonomy: a guidance document is for adult health and social care professionals to support the rights of people who use health and social services, in particular vulnerable people in their care, to make informed decisions and to live more independent lives.

Autonomy is about respecting people — such as nursing home residents — and their dignity, privacy and choices. Our guidance stresses that people have a right to make informed decisions that match their personal values and beliefs. This includes, for example, services actively helping people to live more independently.

Its aim is to help services demonstrate how they:

  • show respect for human dignity
  • provide person-centred care, and
  • ensure an informed consent process is in place that values personal choice and decision-making.

By ensuring that people’s autonomy is respected, service providers will improve the quality of care, safety and quality of life of people who use health and social care services.