Never underestimate the ability of factual data to add real credence to an argument.Policy making backed by real evidence is generally a sound way for the Government to proceed. And yet, data is so often open to interpretation, or more to the point, misinterpretation, that it needs handling with care and balance.
Professor Nick Black said this week, having been asked by the NHS to see whether hospital mortality figures are an indicator of poor care, that such figures give “a misleading idea of the quality of care of a hospital" and suggested that the public ignores them. But those figures indicate the number of deaths, and every single one of those deaths matter. The majority of deaths will have been inevitable, and I appreciate his point that if there is no hospice nearby many terminally ill people will die in hospital, but there are undoubtedly local factors to be taken into account. Maybe we need some balance to the reporting to reflect specific circumstances. However, ask a clinical negligence lawyer and they will tell you that at least some of those deaths were needless and could have been avoided.
Indeed, the Keogh report last year found failings in care in 14 of the hospitals with the highest death rates. High mortality data caused alarm bells to ring about Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, which is now in the process of being dissolved. There is usually no smoke without fire.
Being held to account publicly can be tough. However, it’s a good thing that such figures are in the public domain, even if it may knock a bit of the shine off the NHS.I am a huge supporter of the NHS, which gets things right by far the majority of the time. Infrequently, accidents happen, mistakes are made unwittingly, and people suffer as a result. We shouldn’t try and pretend it doesn’t happen, ignore it, or excuse it. Publishing figures is an excellent driver of real improvements to health and safety. High mortality rates undoubtedly raise question marks, flagging where there is increased risk of poor quality care.This risk-based approach informs the decision by the Care Quality Commission as to which hospitals to inspect.
At APIL we strive to prevent needless injury for those undergoing medical care and treatment. Mortality figures do not provide the whole story, but they provide an alert mechanism that can prevent future medical negligence. We should improve the reliability of the figures, rather than binning them. Hospitals will be pushed to improve, and that can only be a good thing.