Quality standards for health and social care

The quality standards for Health and Social Care (HSC) are part of a broader framework to raise the quality of health and social care services provided to the community throughout Northern Ireland.

Supporting good governance and best practice in Health and Social Care

The quality standards were formally launched on the 14th of March 2006 by Health Minister, Shaun Woodward. These standards:

  • give HSC and other organisations a measure against which they can assess themselves and demonstrate improvement
  • help service users and carers to understand what quality of service they are entitled to
  • help to ensure implementation of the duty HSC has in respect of human rights and equality of opportunity for the people of Northern Ireland
  • enable formal assessment of the quality and safety of HSC services

Duty of quality

The 'Health and Personal Social Services (Quality, Improvement and Regulation) (Northern Ireland) Order 2003' applied a statutory duty of quality on the HSC Board and Trusts. This means that each organisation, large or small, has a legal responsibility to ensure that the care it provides must meet a required standard.

Delivery of health and social care services is increasingly complex. It is plainly in the interests of commissioners, providers, service users and carers that we try and keep such complexity to a minimum. In order to do this, we need to adopt a more integrated approach to how health and social care demonstrates quality of service delivery. There are many different kinds of standards which incorporate and complement those that already exist. The five quality themes which make up the standards will be applicable to any health and social care environment whether community, primary, secondary or tertiary care.

The Five Themes

The five key quality themes are:

  • corporate leadership and accountability of organisations
  • safe and effective care
  • accessible, flexible and responsive services
  • promoting, protecting and improving health and social well being
  • effective communication and information

How will the standards be used to measure quality?

The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) is an independent organisation which has two main functions:

  • inspection of the services provided by the HSC in Northern Ireland
  • regulation of specified health and social care services provided by the HSC and independent sector

RQIA in conjunction with HSC organisations, services users and carers, will agree how the standards will be interpreted to assess service quality. Specific tools will be designed to allow the RQIA to measure that quality and assist HSC organisations to assess themselves. RQIA will provide a report on its assessment of governance from 2006-2007 onwards.

Service user information

Further information for service users on the quality standards can be found in the 'Up to Standard' leaflet.


A public consultation was held on the draft standards for the period from May 2005 to July 2005. A summary of responses outlines the feedback received.


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