October 8, 2008
Caution Urged As Surgeons’ Death Rates Published
By Lyndsay Moss Health Correspondent
PATIENTS undergoing surgery in Scotland will be able to see the death rate for the surgeon treating them after new figures were published yesterday.The statistics run from 2004 to 2007
, but experts said the "crude" data came with a "health warning" as it did not consider the types of operations being carried out or the severity of patients' illness.
ISD (Information Services Division) Scotland, which publishes health statistics on a range of issues, released updated figures of surgical mortality rates after first publishing data in 2006.
The statistics showed that the majority of deaths occurred in patients treated as emergencies, rather than planned surgery.
Many surgeons had a zero mortality rate, mostly in specialities such as eye and plastic surgery where risks are generally lower. In comparison, heart surgeons dealing with very ill and complex conditions had higher rates.
Dr Penny Bridger, consultant in public health medicine at ISD, urged caution over the figures.
"Essentially, this data is extremely crude and takes no account of the case-mix of the patients involved, such as how ill they are, whether they are elderly and how they have been treated," she said.
"It does not give any information on how they were when admitted and if they were extremely sick."
She added: "It is not fair to say a surgeon has the highest mortality rate based on these figures, as they do not compare like with like. We have to be very, very careful when small numbers of patients are involved as this can influence the mortality rate."
John Orr, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, said it had no problems with the data being released, so long as it was correctly interpreted.
"Some surgeons may have a high rate because they take on high- risk cases," he said.
"We will look at this data to interpret it in more detail. But from what I have seen, there is nothing that sticks out as being of concern."
The British Medical Association Scotland also said it was happy for patients to access the data, so long as they were aware of its limitations.
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