Clinical Guidelines: Notes for Users

SIGN guidelines are not intended to be construed or to serve as a standard of medical care. Standards of medical care are determined on the basis of all clinical data available for an individual case and are subject to change as scientific knowledge and technology advance and patterns of care evolve. These parameters of practice must therefore be considered guidelines only. Adherence to them will not ensure a successful outcome in every case, nor should they be construed as including all proper methods of care or excluding other acceptable methods of care aimed at the same results. The ultimate judgement regarding a particular clinical procedure or treatment plan must be made by the doctor in light of the clinical data presented by the patient and the diagnostic and treatment options available.

Implementation of national clinical guidelines is the responsibility of each NHS Trust and is an essential part of clinical governance. It is acknowledged that every Trust cannot implement every guideline immediately on publication, but mechanisms should be in place to ensure that the care provided is reviewed against the guideline recommendations and the reasons for any differences assessed and, where appropriate, addressed. These discussions should involve both clinical staff and management. Local arrangements may then be made to implement the national guideline in individual hospitals, units and practices, and to monitor compliance. This may be done by a variety of means including patient-specific reminders, continuing education and training, and clinical audit.

Significant departures from the national guideline as expressed in any local guidelines derived from it should be fully documented and the reasons for the differences explained. Significant departures from the recommendations of the national or any local guideline should be fully documented in the patient's case notes at the time the relevant decision is taken.


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