The importance of policies in health and social care

health and social care

Policies are an integral part of the health and social care system. Some have been in place for a long time, while others have only recently been introduced, such as those introduced as a reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. The system is kept under review to make sure that the policies remain fit for a modern health and social care system. Understanding and implementing these policies is the responsibility of those who work in health and social care. While it can seem like a lot to get to grips with, a thorough understanding will help facilitate the smooth running of the facility, better outcomes for patients, and a more positive atmosphere for employees.
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What are health and social care policies?

Health and social care policies set out how health and social care are accessed and administered, including the decisions, actions and goals designed to lead to the required standards. Policy can be set at a federal, state, and local level.

While anyone working in health or social care will need to have some understanding of health and social care policies, the more senior the position or greater degree of autonomy in which they work, the more thorough their knowledge will need to be. For example, in nursing, it is the nurse leaders and nurse practitioners who will have to make decisions on how the policies are implemented.

If you are interested in becoming a nurse leader or nurse practitioner, a good option is to undertake a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) at an online nursing leadership program. While this can be studied at universities, many nurses are finding it better to do this on a more flexible online course. Such a course can provide a thorough education in the practices, business principles and economics through online study at a time that’s convenient to you in the comfort of home.

While policies are often complex, the importance of understanding them cannot be overstated, and is essential for the effective operation of health and social care facilities for a number of reasons.

Patient care

Policies set out the expected standards of patient care, bringing consistency to the patient experience. This does not mean that the policies will be implemented in the same way everywhere. The policies for patient care in an oncology unit, for example, will be different from those in a mental health facility. However, the policies set out how the medical professionals respond in certain situations and the standards that the patients have a right to expect. 

Having policies on how to respond is a benefit to the nurses and other medical professionals, as they can provide a secure framework that allows them to make the best decisions on how to proceed.

Drug policies

The pharmaceuticals involved in health and social care can range from over-the-counter medicines to controlled substances with severe side effects. The implications of giving a patient the wrong medicine, the wrong dose or the wrong frequency can be fatal – and with many different types dispensed by various medical professionals frequently throughout the day, the potential for mistakes is enormous.

However effective drug policies significantly reduce the chance of a mistake as they set out who can access drugs, how this is checked, and how they are recorded. This should make it straightforward to see who has dispensed medicine to a particular patient, and how much as well as when any future doses are due.

As well as ensuring that patients get the correct dose of medicine at the correct time, these policies also protect staff. If a patient worsens despite the medication, the records kept can demonstrate that the healthcare professional has followed the correct steps.

Employee policies

Policies also set out the rights and responsibilities of employees. They can make clear everything that is expected from employees, such as dress code, how to report absence, the behavior expected of them, and many other details specific to the type of health or social care where they work.

These policies also help prevent exploitation. They will set out your right to breaks and vacation days and help maintain the highest standards of safety in the workplace, such as the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE). Through these policies, health and social care facilities can maximize their chances of a healthy, motivated workforce.

Privacy and security

Health and social care policies are put in place to protect both physical and digital privacy and security for the benefit of both patients and employees. Health and social care facilities handle vast amounts of personal information from details of health to addresses to financial information. Having policies in place around digital protection can help prevent a security breach. As well as the information recorded digitally, there will also be policies around patient confidentiality and how patient information can be shared between the professionals involved in their care.

Security is also an issue for health and social care facilities. Patients may be there at a time when they are scared and vulnerable, with the risk that either they or their families could lash out. There may also be patients who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol who could be a threat to employees or other patients. Healthcare facilities can also be busy places with plenty of comings and goings that make them easy for an intruder to enter. Security policies will set out the security that is needed and the protocols for how they act, and ensure that employees know how to contact security in an emergency.

The importance of policies

Without policies, health and social care would be chaotic with mistakes an everyday occurrence. For patients, there would be no consistency of care and no confidence in their care providers, while for nurses and other health and social care professionals, their physical and mental wellbeing at work could be under serious threat. With policies providing a secure framework that clearly sets out expectations, health and social care professionals can get on with delivering the best possible levels of care.

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