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Making the case for quality improvement: lessons for NHS boards and leaders

The NHS is facing significant financial and operational pressures, with services struggling to maintain standards of care. Now, more than ever, local and national NHS leaders need to focus on improving quality and delivering better-value care. All NHS organisations should be focused on continually improving quality of care for people using their services. This includes improving the safety, effectiveness and experience of care.

Quality improvement – the use of methods and tools to continuously improve quality of care and outcomes for patients – should be at the heart of local plans for redesigning NHS services. NHS leaders have a vital role to play in making this happen – leadership and management practices have a significant impact on quality. Studies have shown that board commitment to quality improvement is linked to higher-quality care, underlining the leadership role of boards in this area.

Improving quality and reducing costs are sometimes seen as conflicting aims when they are in fact often two sides of the same coin. There are many opportunities in the NHS to deliver better outcomes at lower cost (improving value), for example by reducing unwarranted variations in care and addressing overuse, misuse and underuse of treatment. There are many examples across the NHS showing that even relatively small-scale quality improvement initiatives can lead to significant benefits for patients and staff, while also delivering better value.

The potential benefit is even greater if quality improvement techniques are applied consistently and systematically across organisations and systems. However, this is not currently the case. To deliver the changes that are needed to sustain and improve care, the NHS needs to move from pockets of innovation and isolated examples of good practice to system-wide improvement.

In this briefing, we outline 10 lessons for NHS leaders. These provide a starting point for leaders seeking to embed quality improvement in their work.