Surgeon’s data published- landmark improvement for NHS

Vascular surgeons have become the first of a new group of nine specialities to publish their operating data.
Surgeon's data published- landmark improvement for NHSThis move to publish this data is being viewed as a significant milestone as 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 Prof Sir Ian Kennedy, who chaired the inquiry into the excessive number of deaths of babies undergoing heart surgery in Bristol.

It is important not to view the surgeons’ performance data as a league table as surgeons all carry out a different range of procedures, even within the same specialty. They also deal with a different number of cases each year, on both high and low-risk patients.

Some surgeons will have many complex patients. Also, some procedures are inherently riskier than others.

What the tables do show are the number of times a procedure has been performed by a surgeon over a year, the mortality rate and – after adjusting for risk – if the outcomes fall within an acceptable range.

It’s acknowledged that surgeons need to perform a certain number of operations to keep their skills at a high level, but some doctors have been resistant to widening publication of data for eight surgical specialties and cardiology, as there is a fear that it may give a misleading impression.

Those doctors who take on the most difficult and complex cases may appear to be performing badly, when in fact they could be the leading specialists in their field.

The specialities taking part account for about 4,000 surgeons, more than half the workforce. Alongside mortality rates, the data includes information on other aspects such as length of stay in hospital after a procedure.

Prof Norman Williams, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, said: “This is an historic moment for surgery, and I’m enormously proud of what surgeons up and down the country have achieved.

“It has been a difficult and complex undertaking carried out in a short timescale but we see this as the beginning of a new era for openness in medicine.  It is early days, but it will change for the better the nature of the bond between patient and surgeon, which is based on both openness and trust.”

The college said that overall it looked as if more than 99% of doctors had agreed to the release of the data this summer with fewer than 30 expected to resist.

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