Introduction and methodology

NICE clinical guidelines are recommendations on treatment and care for people with particular conditions who use the NHS.  NICE guidelines are based on the best available evidence and are developed by a multi-disciplinary team of healthcare professionals and consumers or guideline development group with particular expertise or experience in the guideline topic.  Each guideline development group is supported by a project team at the National Collaborating Centre for Women's and Children's Health who review and evaluate evidence of clinical and cost effectiveness and manage the production of the guideline.  Guidelines help healthcare professionals in their work, but they do not replace their knowledge and skills.

Improving the quality of care

Clinical guidelines improve the quality of healthcare by changing the process of care and giving advice on treatment options.  Clinical guidelines:

  • provide recommendations for the treatment and care of people by health professionals
  • help patients to make informed decisions
  • improve communication between patient and health professional
  • are used to develop standards to assess the clinical practice of individual health professionals
  • are used in the education and training of health professionals
  • help the NHS make the best use of resources
  • inform future research.

Versions of clinical guidelines

  • The full guideline contains all the recommendations and a care pathway.  It also provides summaries of the evidence used and how the guideline development group has interpreted it.  This version is produced by the National Collaborating Centre for Women's and Children's Health, and is made freely available via the NICE website.
  • The NICE guideline presents only the recommendations and research recommendations.
  • The NICE pathway is an online tool bringing together related NICE guidance, quality standards and implementation tools as a set of interactive flowcharts.
  • Understanding NICE guidance is written using suitable language for people without specialist medical knowledge.

Developing clinical guidelines

The methods used by NICE and its clinical guideline developers are detailed in two documents: click here for the Guidelines Manual and the How NICE clinical guidelines are developed: an overview for stakeholders, the public and the NHS (fifth edition).

Below is a brief summary of the guideline development process.

1 Topic referral

The Department of Health refers clinical guideline topics to NICE.

2. Stakeholders register interest

National organisations who represent consumers and healthcare professionals can get involved in guideline development by registering with NICE. Stakeholders are consulted throughout the guideline development process.  Read  more about stakeholder registration.

3. Scope prepared

The National Collaborating Centre for Women's and Children's Health prepares a scope which sets out what the guideline will and will not cover.  NICE and registered stakeholders contribute to the development of the scope.

4. Guideline development group established

The guideline develoment group members are recruited via open adverts published on the NICE website.  The type of healthcare professionals and consumers for each guideline is agreed with NICE.

5. Guideline development

The guideline development group uses the best available evidence of clinical and cost effectiveness to draft guideline recommendations, taking account of the experience and expertise of guideline development group members.

6. Consultation on the draft guideline

There is at least one public consultation period for registered stakeholders to comment on the draft guideline.

7. Final guideline produced

After the guideline development group has reviewed all the stakeholder comments, the group finalises the recommendations.

8. Guideline publication

Following formal approval from NICE the final guideline is issued to the NHS.