Hospitals provide healthcare. They offer round-the-clock specialised medical care*. Physicians of various disciplines work with other individual healthcare providers such as nurses and paramedics under one roof pluridisciplinary*).
The hospital sector has to satisfy a whole host of standards* which are monitored by the government. Every facility that meets those standards is recognised * and receives funding from the government. However, not every facility that offers specialist care is also a hospital! Only facilities that have been recognised by the competent authorities can call themselves a "hospital".
Since the 60s of the previous century, the function of hospitals has changed dramatically. In those days of yesteryear, hospitals were places where patients stayed and received treatment. Nowadays, the core task of a hospital is to offer healthcare to patients battling a medical condition or alleviate the symptoms of an illness, restore or improve patients’ health or stabilise their injuries.
Hospital stays are kept as short as possible. After all, there are quite a number of health problems that can be treated effectively on an outpatient basis. If necessary, patients who are discharged from hospital can be admitted to another care institution like a rest and nursing home* (RNH) for a more extended period of time.
'General hospitals' are hospitals that do not only cater for psychiatric patients.
Some general hospitals carry the name of university hospital. These are hospitals that fulfil a specific function in terms of care, education, applied research and the development of new technologies.
To conclude, Belgium also boasts a number of so-called ‘categorical’ hospitals*. These hospitals provide specialised care, look after patients requiring isolation or chronic care (Specialised care) and thus deal with non-acute conditions.
You can find an overview of the general hospitals recognised in Flanders here.
Click here for further information on psychiatric hospitals.
The competent authorities do not recognise any hospital unless it satisfies a number of statutory standards. These standards relate to the general organisation of the hospital and to a number of other specific requirements. Specific rules have been put in place that regulate the general hospital services, the administrative, technical and medical services and the minimum capacity of hospitals.
For one, hospitals must satisfy specific standards in relation to hospital hygiene. The monitoring of the sterilisation techniques and antibiotics policy of hospitals has also been statutorily regulated. Likewise, the preparation and distribution of food and the collection and disposal of hospital waste are governed by stringent hygiene standards. Compliance with the Data Protection Act when it comes to processing patients' personal details (especially medical records) is another essential recognition requirement which is governed by stringent standards.
Aside from the hospital's infrastructure, the quality of care patients receive is another decisive factor in the recognition process. These days, hospitals must for instance be able to respond to social developments such as the ageing of the population and the evolution in the field of medical technology. The strict separation between departments (e.g. between surgery and internal medicine) or between outpatient care and traditional hospital care has well and truly been outmoded. Continuity, integration and coordination have now become crucial norms in the hospital sector.
For quality assurance and continuity of care purposes, hospitals and other healthcare providers are free to enter into a collaboration agreement with one another, for instance via mergers between hospitals, care circuits, networks or care programmes.
Hospitals, departments or functions that fail to meet the pre-set standards, leave themselves open to sanctions from the inspection services of the Communities. Any hospital that does not meet the recognition standards may have its recognition withdrawn and find itself forced to close down.
Monitoring, evaluation and quality
A general hospital is inspected by the Care Inspection Agency and the Flemish Care and Health Agency. The checks focus on care pathways. A care pathway is the path that a particular group of patients follows in a hospital.
The checks focus on the quality of the care on the ground. This is done at 3 levels: structure, processes and results.
In addition, hospitals themselves seek accreditation from an external accreditation institution. For hospitals which do not do that, the Care Inspection Agency also keeps an eye on the system. This system surveillance focuses on the evaluation of leadership, strategy and policy, the safety management system and the quality system across the hospital.
The Walloon Region is competent for the inspection and approval of all the hospitals in its territory (except for the German-speaking Community). Its departments also inspect and approve, on behalf of the French Community, the university hospitals of St Luc Woluwé, Erasme, Liège and Mont-Godinne, and the technical medical services of Bordet. It can also handle complaints concerning compliance with hospital legislation (staffing standards, general building hygiene, recall of duty specialists, etc.)
For the Walloon Region and the university hospitals dependent on the French Community, see the portal "Action Sociale et Santé en Wallonie"
Common Community Commission (Brussels):
The standards are checked by the inspection service and the health service of the Common Community Commission annually. In addition, there are inspections carried out when there is a change in the number of beds, a new manager, a change in the asbl such as the name of the asbl, address or the location.
* See Glossary