Hospitals with above average death rates should be open to scrutiny

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Hospitals with above average death rates should be open to scrutiny

17th June 2010

A recent investigation has exposed wide disparities in death rates across hospitals offering vascular surgery. Data obtained through Freedom of Information requests from 116 separate Trusts revealed a number of hospitals had death rates far higher than expected.

Between 2006 and 2008, the average mortality rate in abdominal aortic aneurysm surgery - an operation to repair a "ballooning" of the abdominal artery - was 4 per cent for the whole of England. But ten of the Trusts examined had death rates higher then 10 per cent, with one hospital in the North forced to stop offering the procedure after four deaths in fourteen operations, a 29 per cent death rate.

"Families of patients who died following surgery at hospitals with an above average death rate could be entitled to an investigation, at the very least," said Daniel Lee, a leading clinical negligence expert with Fentons Solicitors LLP.

"Although hospital complaints must currently be received within a year of the incident in question, surely families who subsequently discovered death rate figures in the wake of losing a loved one should be allowed a degree of flexibility," said Daniel, a partner at the firm. "In regard to published death rate figures showing evidence of hospital failing, it should not be unreasonable to expect the hospitals in question to review past cases of concern."

The independent patient support organisation Action Against Medical Accidents (AvMA) is campaigning for hospitals to be more open with patients and families when treatment goes wrong. The publicity surrounding the Bristol babies scandal that exposed higher then average infant mortality rates caused several affected families to come forward. Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has called for detailed data recording healthcare provider performance figures as well as comparative data about standards and patient experience, to be published online.

"It is important for this kind of meaningful information to be in the public domain," said Daniel. "Access to this data will influence patient choice and consequently raise the quality of care."

Hospital results data is currently compiled by administrators and is generally seen as unreliable. Doctors themselves are not required to collect performance data with the exception of cardiac surgeons who as a group voluntarily publish their comparative results regularly.

Echoing the thoughts of Sir Donald Irvine, former president of the General Medical Council (GMC) and now Chair of the Picker Institute Europe, Daniel said: "Accurate clinical results data detailing doctor-specific performance figures across the NHS and private sector is vital for good clinical governance. Clearly, being able to research which doctors can provide the best and safest care is of enormous benefit to patients and families."

How can Fentons Solicitors help?
Fentons has a specialist department experienced in handling claims relating to clinical and medical negligence.

If you think that you have a case or require further information, contact Fentons on 0800 019 1297 or fill in the online claims questionnaire.

Source - Guardian