Page last updated at 13:02 GMT, Wednesday, 2 September 2009 14:02 UK

Drink a factor in surgery deaths

Generic image of surgery
The figures reveal for the first time the role of alcohol in deaths during surgery

Alcohol abuse was a factor in the deaths of one in 15 patients who died in hospitals last year while under the care of surgeons, figures have shown.

The statistics came in the first interim report produced by the Scottish Audit of Surgical Mortality (SASM).

The chairman of the body which carried out the study said the figures showed for the first time how much alcohol abuse impacted on the work of surgeons.

A total of 3,461 people died in surgery in 2008.

The report found that alcohol was implicated in the deaths of 194 patients, representing about 1 in 15 of all surgical deaths.

'First time'

Of the 194 patients, alcohol played a significant role in 147 patients - with alcohol either contributing to the deaths of 112 patients or causing the death of 35 patients.

Acute alcohol intoxication was implicated in the deaths of 31 patients.

John Orr, SASM chairman, said: "This year, we report for the first time on alcohol abuse.

"It is well known that alcohol abuse has a significant impact on NHS Scotland. Now we can see for the first time that it also impacts on the work of surgeons."

Dr Brian Keighley, chairman of the BMA in Scotland, said the figures highlighted the human cost of alcohol misuse in Scotland and demonstrated the need for planned legislation on minimum alcohol pricing.

He said: "Scotland is awash with alcohol and the consequences are crippling the health service. The scale of the problem needs radical solutions.

"A wide ranging strategy is essential, but alongside public health education and awareness raising, a central part of this strategy is to introduce minimum price per unit of alcohol. Legislation on price is the only proven way to help change behaviour and end the heavy drinking culture that is blighting our health service."

The report also found that 30% of surgical patients who died had a healthcare associated infection which was a factor in their deaths, a 1% rise on the 2007 figures.

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