Hospital publishes death rates

A top UK hospital has claimed it is the first in the nation to publish all of its death rates. Hoorah and full points for issuing a press release about setting such a precedent for openness.

St George’s Hospital in Tooting, south-west London, is already one of only a few hospitals in Britain to publish the results for individual heart surgeons, a controversial move opposed by many elsewhere. The Guardian used the Freedom of Information Act earlier this year to force hospitals to reveal these figures. See earlier posts.

The latest statistics don’t list the performance of individual surgeons and doctors but do show death rates for more than 20 specialities, from birth to geriatrics. The Guardian states the measure will increase pressure on the rest of the NHS to follow suit, and not before time. St George’s should be commended for publishing such important data that is clearly in the public interest.

Many doctors have battled against such public accountability, stating that to publish such statistics was ‘oversimplifying’ the data. Yet St George’s managed to publish the data while taking into account risk factors such as age and diagnosis. What the obstructionists fail to realise is that censorship and secrecy are not the solution to oversimplification (if indeed it is a problem). Patients have a right to know more about those people to whom they trust their health. If more hospitals published their rates, surely this would remind the public that complex medical procedures carry a risk of failure or death, and enable patients to quantify that risk sensibly.

Here’s my prescription for avoiding oversimplification – a big hearty dose of extra informative data.

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