Six steps to help improve the quality of drug services and systems in Europe are presented today in a new manual from the EU drugs agency (EMCDDA). Entitled Implementing quality standards for drug services and systems: a six-step guide to support quality assurance, the publication offers practical advice for professionals implementing quality assurance in the area of drug demand reduction.

The guide provides a broad introduction to quality standards, followed by six practical steps designed for those intending to use or implement quality processes and standards at local, regional or national level.

While the guide is primarily targeted at professionals commissioning, planning, funding or providing drug services, it may also be of interest to other stakeholders, such as licensing and inspectorate bodies or recipients of interventions, service users or advocacy groups.

The guide describes how quality standards in drug demand reduction have been a priority in the last two EU drugs strategies and action plans and how more countries now report having guidelines and standards for interventions and accreditation systems for service provision. The current EU Drugs Action Plan 2021–2025 (Action 38) calls for services to be guided by the minimum quality standards for drug demand reduction interventions in the EU.

‘One of the main functions of quality assurance is embedding a culture of reflection and continuous improvement in drug services and systems’, says EMCDDA Director Alexis Goosdeel. ‘Quality assurance mechanisms can help professionals work better and improve services for patients, clients, staff and communities, also encouraging user involvement, transparency and accountability. Good quality drug demand reduction interventions, based on evidence and firmly located in human rights, can help improve people’s lives and life chances. At a time when there is more need than ever to ensure continuity in the financing of drug services, well-documented evidence of the quality and evaluation of these services is a must.’

Various types and purposes of quality standards are described in the guide. Some standards are needed for drug services to be accredited (e.g. staff qualifications), while others may regulate the physical space and facilities where a service is provided (e.g. fire safety, infection control, medicines management). And while some cover the overall outcome that a service or system aims to achieve (e.g. respect for human rights, privacy), others include recommendations for concrete actions (e.g. auditing).

Six steps

The manual identifies the following six steps to consider when implementing quality assurance processes and standards:

  1. Diagnosis: What is the problem the quality assurance project will address?
  2. Scoping: What are the goals and who to involve?
  3. Mapping and selection: What standards apply and how can we verify them?
  4. Assessing systems and services: How to evaluate
  5. Drafting an improvement plan and disseminating results: When, where and to whom to communicate
  6. Preparing for the next cycle: How to ensure continuous evaluation

Figure 1 six step guide