AN INDEPENDENT review is being launched into the higher than expected deaths among a small group of patients who suffer complications after hospital operations.
NHS funding bodies have asked the University Hospital of North Staffordshire to look into why the fatalities are nearly double what they should be.
The statistics cover people who may have developed health complications which are different to the underlying condition that led to them going under the knife.
But hospital officials say their own inquiries have found ‘no serious concerns or systemic problems’ that have contributed to patient deaths.
Leaders of North Staffordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which funds and monitors UHNS services, admit they are baffled by the figures as death rates among other patients there are low and continuing to fall.
CCG quality director Sally Parkin said: “We know this indicator involves only a small number of patients, but it still bothers us.
“We are concerned we have not received a satisfactory explanation to understand why it is so high.
“This is why we have asked the provider to request an external review.”
It is to be led by the NHS Trust Development Authority, which provides support and governance for hospitals.
The trust is also looking at other similar-sized centres with trauma units to see if any lessons can be learned.
Analysts compiling the latest Dr Foster Hospital Guide, published last month, identifies UHNS as having a relative risk score of 192.9 among that patient group, with a rating of 100 being the average.
A report to the CCG governing board states: “While the overall mortality rates at the trust are consistently below the national average or within the ‘as expected’ range, the ‘deaths after surgery’ patient safety indicator remains higher than expected.
“We have held discussions with the trust, Dr Foster, the TDA and public health over this.”
“It was agreed that UHNS would request an external review is conducted by the TDA and a contract query has been raised with a formal request for a full action plan on reducing mortality.”
UHNS medical director Robert Courteney-Harris said: “The title of the indicator involved is misleading as it does not reflect total patient death rates after surgery – if it did, we would be within the normal range.
“What it does look at is outcomes in a small subset of patients who had potential complications of surgery.
“An example would be a patient undergoing neuro-surgery, who then has complications involving their cardio functions.
“This is hugely complex and we have been identified in this indicator for a couple of years.
“We have already undertaken extensive work to understand why, including reviewing individual cases. In fact, on review many of the ‘secondary diagnosis complications’ were already present, not a result of poor post-surgical care.”
“To try to resolve we have identified other university hospitals that are major trauma centres to establish what they are doing differently.”