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Policy development

  • Last modified date:
    25 August 2010

Making and implementing policy is a key strand of the Department of Health's work. DH policies are designed to improve on existing arrangements in health and social care, and turn political vision into actions that should benefit staff, patients and the public. They aim to ensure services funded or supported by the Department are delivered in the most responsive, flexible and patient-centred way.

How a policy develops

DH policy is varied and covers many areas of our work including:

  • the way patients and the public receive care
  • how NHS and social care organisations are run
  • information technology and other facilities that support the delivery of health care.


There must be evidence a new DH policy will improve the delivery of health and social care

When a new policy is to be developed, a policy manager is appointed to manage its progress. They start by identifying how it will make a difference and whether it fits with other policies being developed. The policy needs a clearly defined aim, and the policy manager must understand how it will affect existing NHS and social care arrangements. These factors help to create a policy that:

  • achieves its purpose
  • can be implemented quickly
  • does not create an unnecessary burden on NHS and social care staff.

There must be evidence that a new DH policy will improve an aspect of the delivery of health and social care. Proof may come from existing research, or may be demonstrated by support from a group of key stakeholders. Stakeholders can range from GPs, hospital staff, patients, members of the public, social workers, practice managers, DH advisory bodies, charitable organisations and anyone else with expertise or personal experience to offer on the process.

The group will start by trying to understand the problem that the new policy sets out to solve. As they begin to explore possible solutions, the group will consider the opportunities, implications, risks and constraints of the policy's scope. This enables them to look at any examples of good practice that already exist in the UK, or internationally. If those participating agree with what is being proposed, the policy is refined and implemented.


Consultations ensure a policy is a solution or an improvement

If it is a complex issue the policy manager and stakeholders may wish to open the policy up to wider consultation. This is important when devising a policy that will dramatically affect the work of health and social care professionals, or significantly change an existing service for members of the public. It is important to ensure both professionals and patients will not be adversely affected by new arrangements. Consulting these groups ensures that the policy is a solution to a problem, or an improvement to existing working practices. The consultation process can provide answers to the key questions raised in stakeholder discussions, or resolve differences between the needs of groups and individuals affected by the policy.

A series of proposals and issues to be resolved are published, inviting responses from anyone with the relevant experience wishing to participate. The consultation period typically stays open for three months whilst interested parties respond. Those working on the policy can take it forward with the ideas, needs and constraints identified from the analysis of consultation responses.

Most policies do not require legislation. However, if this is needed, then responses to the consultation can help to shape a White Paper, which will become regulations and legislation in turn. If the policy does not require new or replacement legislation, but does necessitate new ways of working, the consultation will provide the basis for a new process or role to fulfil that need.

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