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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 11:04 GMT
NHS watchdog to monitor operations
Surgeons
Patients will be given more information
The safety of NHS operations is to be checked by a medical watchdog.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE), which covers England and Wales, will examine all new operations that involve making a hole or cut in the body, or x-rays, lasers and ultrasound.

It will also issue guidance on existing procedures where there are questions over safety.

NICE said the changes should mean patients and carers will have access to more information about the risks and benefits of procedures.

This new programme will bring about greater protection for patients

Sir Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer for England
They should also be reassured that new techniques are monitored and reviewed to protect their safety, the watchdog said.

Doctors will have to inform NICE when they are considering using a procedure for the first time in the NHS, under the new rules.

NICE is introducing the assessment programme in the wake of the Bristol heart babies scandal.

The report into events at the Bristol Royal Infirmary said up to 35 babies died "unnecessarily" in the mid 1990s because of sub-standard care at the hospital.

NICE's announcement is part of the government's response to the report, in which it promised to create better systems to ensure patient safety.

'Encourage innovation'

Health minister Lord Hunt said: "This new system provides patients with greater assurance that the care they receive is safe and effective."

Professor Bruce Campbell, chair of NICE's Interventional Procedures Advisory Committee, said: "The programme will help to reassure patients and their carers that new procedures are being monitored to protect their safety.

"We will also promote good information for patients about risks and benefits.

"At the same time we want to encourage innovation and to get new procedures to patients who need them throughout the health service."

Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer for England, said: "This new programme will bring about greater protection for patients while at the same time ensuring greater support for clinicians undertaking new and innovative procedures."

Professor Sir Peter Morris, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, said: "It is important to encourage innovation, but it can be difficult to balance the potential benefits to patients against possible risks.

"Setting in place a clear system to which clinicians can refer is therefore important and will facilitate development and dissemination of good practice."

Shadow Health Secretary Dr Liam Fox said: "The key here will be to strike the right balance between encouraging innovation in surgery - for which the UK has a proud record - and protecting patients from the risks of new and untried procedures.

"NICE's role in evaluating new surgical techniques, and fostering the best, is to be welcomed, so long as it does not encourage a culture of defensive practice by clinicians or blight the introduction of revolutionary new treatments."

See also:

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