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Clinical guidelines fact sheet

NICE is the most prolific developer of clinical guidelines in the world. Our first clinical guideline, on the management of schizophrenia, is considered the international gold standard and has been adopted in Spain, Italy, Australia and California.

What are clinical guidelines?

Clinical guidelines advise on the most appropriate treatment and care of patients within the NHS with a specific condition or disease. Guidelines have been developed for a range of conditions, including anxiety, eczema and bipolar disorder. The guidelines take into account the full patient journey, from receiving diagnosis to treatment in a GP surgery or hospital, and self-care.

The guidelines look at the most up-to-date clinical evidence as well as the needs of patients and their families. Clinical guidelines also take into account the cost effectiveness of the various methods of treating and managing a condition. The guidelines are advisory rather than compulsory, although healthcare professionals must consider the guidelines when deciding on the best possible treatment for their patient.

How long do they take to develop?

Standard clinical guidelines take around 18-24 months to develop, short guidelines take around 11-13 months. Standard guidelines cover the entire care pathway - from diagnosis to treatment. Short guidelines cover only a part of the care pathway, and are developed when the NHS requires urgent advice.

How are clinical guidelines developed?

NICE is accountable to the Secretary of State for Health for its work programme although anyone can suggest a topic for investigation. NICE clinical guidelines, like all NICE guidance, are devised in close collaboration with patients, carers and patient groups. Suggested topics are reviewed to ensure compliance with selection criteria, including:

  • Burden of disease - for example, the size of the population affected
  • Resource impact - such as how much money it costs to treat the condition
  • Policy importance - is it a government priority area?
  • Existence of inappropriate variation in practice across the country or disagreement about best practice
  • Timeliness or urgency for guidance to be produced.

Once a topic has been decided, a number of groups are involved in the process to develop the guidelines. These include medical experts, healthcare professionals, patients, carers and the public.

These groups ensure that medical evidence, the needs of patients, and the cost effectiveness of treatment and care programmes are being incorporated into the guidance.

At the beginning of the development process, NICE decides, with collaboration from the various groups, on the scope of the guidelines. This means NICE determines which patients and treatments will be covered by the guidelines. Read more about how NICE develops clinical guidelines.

How are the guidelines implemented?

NICE develops implementation tools, which help healthcare professionals to incorporate the guidelines into patient care. These tools include costing reports and audit tools to help monitor progress. The guidelines are usually reviewed every three years although a partial update may also be carried out before the usual 3 years if significant new evidence emerges.

Praise for NICE's schizophrenia guideline

In a WHO survey of other countries' guidelines on the management of schizophrenia, NICE's guideline was considered - by a large margin - to be methodologically superior to any other of 24 national clinical guidelines on this topic. This guideline has been adopted in Spain, Italy, Australia and California.

This page was last updated: 27 April 2010

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Selected, reliable information for health and social care in one place

Accessibility | Cymraeg | Freedom of information | Vision Impaired | Contact Us | Glossary | Data protection | Copyright | Disclaimer | Terms and conditions

Copyright 2014 National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. All rights reserved.