Are hospitals covering up death rates?

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A joint venture between the Department of Health and Dr Foster Intelligence which monitored the NHS’ performance has released a statement accusing hospitals of playing around with figures regarding death rates. They have done so by recording huge numbers of patients as having terminal diseases.

It is alleged that hospitals have tried to improve their statistics by covering up instances where patients admitted with conditions that are treatable, are dying.

Some trusts are reporting high percentages of patient with cancer or other serious diseases as this means that their deaths are not able to be avoided. These cases were not included in the main mortality statistics and has increased ten-fold during a three year period.

These revelations which were uncovered by the joint venture have raised concerns that hospitals may be falsifying figures deliberately.

Roger Taylor, a staff member of Dr Foster, has garnered an explanation of how an elderly patient may be admitted to hospital suffering with a broken hip, develop an infection which would cause his or her death. This death would be coded as ‘palliative’ by hospital staff, regardless of the fact that the initial injury should not have killed the patient.

This may be a mistake or could be a deliberate action. It is not clear as the guidelines related to the recording of deaths are not clear. Regardless of the lack of clarity, it differs greatly from a true ‘palliative’ death of patients suffering from terminal cancer.

The Hospital Standardised Mortality Ratio (HSMR) gathers details related to the number of patients who have died unexpectedly, on an annual basis. However, trusts may lower the rate if high number of terminal patients has been recorded. The figures at London’s Guy’s and St Thomas showed an increase from 1% during 2008 to 32% during 2012. East and North Hertfordshire indicated an increase from a level of 10% to 43% during the same period, while at London’s King’s College Hospital an increase from 9% to 38% was recorded.

Mr Taylor has stated that the data was quite alarming and is masking the level of poor care offered. He was not prepared to go to the lengths of accusing trusts of deliberately playing around with figures.

Other experts and MPS have said that they cannot see any other explanation for these figures and have called for immediate investigations to be done on the trusts indicating the data that was most suspicious.

Image credit: Lydia

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