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Last Updated: Friday, 9 December 2005, 08:45 GMT
Surgeon death rates in spotlight
Individual surgical statistics could soon be made public
Scotland's information commissioner has called on the NHS to publish details of the death rates of individual surgeons.

The health service has been reluctant to release figures in the past as they may be open to misinterpretation.

Officials insist that the best surgeons often take on the trickiest cases and could have lower survival rates.

However, information commissioner Kevin Dunion said the public had a right to know and was perfectly capable of understanding the figures.

Not technical

Mr Dunion has been tasked with ensuring public bodies are conforming to the Freedom of Information Act.

NHS Scotland has a record of how many patients die under the care of individual surgeons and Mr Dunion has said that this information should be openly available.

Patients have been calling for more openness ever since the Bristol Royal Infirmary (BRI) scandal when surgeons were found to have continued carrying out heart operations on children even though they had higher than average death rates.

It's not just the surgeon, it's the whole team involved in looking after the patient who contribute to the outcome
John Smith
Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh

A handful of hospitals in England have independently published individual information already and several more are considering it after requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

Mr Dunion has now recommended the publication of such information north of the border.

He said that as the information was not technical, the general public was perfectly capable of interpreting it.

President of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh John Smith said it was right to inform the public, but any league table had to be comprehensive.

Mr Smith told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme: "Bland figures about how many people die as a result of a particular surgeon operating don't take into account the other factors that have to be borne in mind.

'Meaningful data'

"It's not just the surgeon, it's the whole team involved in looking after the patient who contribute to the outcome.

"And it is obviously to do with the patient themselves."

Maria Shortis had a daughter who died in the heart surgery scandal at BRI between 1991 and 1995.

Ms Shortis said she welcomed more openness, but had concerns about how the public would view the figures.

She said: "Any information that's put out in league tables, unless it's meaningful and has been risk stratified, could just be used to place people against one another and I'm not sure that's useful.

"So it has to be meaningful data."

See the arguments behind publishing the data

Surgical deaths continue to fall
05 Dec 03 |  Scotland
MSPs vote to fill 'freedom' post
12 Dec 02 |  Scotland
Longer waits for casualty patients
02 Sep 02 |  Scotland
Hospital deaths rate rise
11 Feb 02 |  Scotland


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