Scots surgeons urged to publish mortality rates

Scottish civil servants are keen for surgeons to put out the data. Picture: TSPL
Scottish civil servants are keen for surgeons to put out the data. Picture: TSPL
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HEALTH officials in Scotland are in talks to encourage more surgeons operating in Scottish hospitals to publish their death rates.

Scotland on Sunday understands civil servants in the Scottish Government health department are looking at ways of encouraging surgeons to publish performance data.

The move follows the historic decision to publish individual surgeons’ mortality rates.

Last week vascular surgeons became the first of a new group of nine specialities to give the public access to figures revealing the percentage of patients who died in their care.

Twenty-four vascular surgeons working in different parts of Scotland voluntarily contributed to the data, which is published on the NHS Choices website.

Submission of data was voluntary for the first year for surgeons in England, but will become mandatory south of the Border next year. In Scotland and the other devolved nations of Wales and Northern Ireland surgeons were encouraged to submit their figures by professional bodies.

Currently in Scotland surgeons provide the information on a voluntary basis, but the Scottish Government said its officials were discussing how “further submissions of data should be encouraged in future years”.

Reacting to the publication of the information, a Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “These figures also include data from Scottish surgeons who volunteered information. The report did not find that any surgeon had outcomes that differed from the national average by more than would be expected from random fluctuations alone. This is very reassuring for patients in Scotland.”

She added: “We encourage submission to audits of this kind which increase information available for patients and their families and can drive improvement where necessary.”

The publication of surgical mortality for individual surgeons has been a controversial issue. Six of the 500 vascular surgeons, who specialise in operations on arteries and veins, opted out of having their statistics made public.

South of the Border, the UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has warned that those refusing to take part in the initiative, which will see eight other specialities publish statistics later this year, would be named and shamed. The NHS Choices website emphasised that none of the six who had declined to provide the information had results outside the normally expected range.

They are all based south of the Border and were named as Richard Bird, Patrick Kent, Robert Lonsdale, Manmohan Madan, Peter McCollum and Leszek Wolowczyk.

Those against the new approach have argued it will put pressure on younger surgeons not to do difficult surgery in case it upsets their statistics.

To date, individual performance data has only been published for heart surgeons. But for years there has been debate about whether other areas of medicine should follow.

The publication of surgery-specific data was first called for in 2001 by Professor Sir Ian Kennedy, who chaired the inquiry into the excessive number of deaths of babies undergoing heart surgery in Bristol.

Those in favour of publishing results say that it will drive up standards of surgery and is another example of increasing openness in the NHS.