Headlines: November 4th, 1998

The Government’s new league tables on operation costs across Britain’s hospitals will be used a s tool to force out inefficiency.The National Schedule of Reference Costs has been compiled from detailed information supplied by all 249 NHS Trusts conducting operations.

It reveals huge variations in how much the same operation costs from hospital to hospital. The cost of hip replacement can vary from 1,834 to 6,494 pounds. The cost of a vasectomy could cost 148 pounds in one hospital, and over a thousand in another.

The figures do show that nine out of ten NHS Trusts are within 20 per cent of the national average cost for surgery.

The Government says high cost hospitals will face tough new efficiency targets that will seek to improve quality as well as cost. It recommends the poor performers benchmark to improve systems.

The Institute of Health Service Managers has warned against measuring cost without considering quality alongside. Director Karen Caines said: “A cheap operation is not necessarily the best operation. The variations in cost for the same operations around England needs to be handled thoughtfully. The reasons behind the figures – including the lowest as well as the highest costs – need careful consideration.”

The new reference costs information is currently only available for operations but Ministers intend to collect and publish more cost information for all hospital procedures.

The Government says that later this year there will be new performance league tables and new clinical indicators to give a properly rounded assessment of how individual hospitals are performing.