The Department of Health (DH) and BSI British Standards yesterday (9 December 2008) announced a new initiative to increase resilience to major incidents and disruption across the NHS.
This will begin with the implementation of BS 25999 Parts 1 and 2, BSI British Standards' code of practice and specification on business continuity management (BCM).
The DH and BSI British Standards say that, while the NHS has a good record of responding well to "big-bang" major incidents, which produce sudden influxes of casualties, it has more limited experience of dealing with "rising tide" incidents, which develop over a longer period of time.
Examples of the latter include an influenza pandemic, flooding, or restricted energy and water supplies, which all have the potential to impact upon the NHS in terms of its ability to continue routine business or maintain patient capacity and organisational infrastructure.
Other threats to business continuity include staff shortages, limited access to premises, or failures in technology. Looking beyond NHS organisations' own services and facilities, increasingly complex supply chains mean that the failure of key suppliers can also have significant repercussions for patient care.
The NHS Resilience Project was set up in 2007 to ensure that NHS organisations are meeting their obligations to maintain effective BCM plans under the 2004 Civil Contingencies Act.
BS 25999-1 Code of Practice on Business Continuity Management and BS 25999-2 Specification on Business Continuity Management provide practical guidelines and requirements for putting BCM arrangements in place.
The DH sees the BSI standard as an ideal benchmark against which organisations throughout the NHS can judge their business continuity measures, with widespread adoption promising higher and more consistent standards of resilience across the healthcare system.
Phil Storr, Head of the NHS Resilience Project at the DH, said: "Members of the public expect the NHS to be there for them when they need it, no matter what the circumstances. While the commitment of NHS staff can be relied upon in the time of a crisis, detailed and comprehensive planning is also vital if the most challenging situations are to be dealt with effectively.
"That is why emergency planning is one of the five national priorities set out in this year's Operating Framework for the NHS in England. Through its work with BSI, the NHS Resilience Project will help to guide and inform that planning to ensure that the NHS can be there for the patients who need it, whatever happens."
Mike Low, Director of BSI British Standards, said, "We have already seen widespread enthusiasm across industry for the BCM tools offered by BSI British Standards, and I am pleased that the DH will be encouraging its adoption amongst NHS trusts.
"This is a very positive step on the road towards achieving consistently high-quality BCM throughout the NHS."