Headlines: June 17th, 1999

Publication of healthcare performance information has been overshadowed by claims of unreliable data. The Clinical and High Level Performance indicators for 1997/98, provide a baseline for measuring quality improvements in patient care. For the first time, patient death rates have been published. They show that 2,253 people per 100,000 die within 30 days of surgery following an emergency admission. There are wide variations from this figure. The High Level Indicators are based on 47 lower levels of performance measurement.

Many hospital managers have dismissed the figures as inaccurate and misleading. They claim they are riddled with inaccuracies and mask factors such as workload and type of treatment. One hospital shown to have a high death rate following surgery specialises in treating terminally ill cancer patients. It is claimed that improvements in the figures for future years will be due to higher quality data as much as to better quality care. The 1998/99 figures will be published at the end of this year.

Health Secretary Frank Dobson stressed that the figures are not intended for use as league tables. Neither do they indicate the best and worst hospitals and health authorities. It would be misleading to make use of them in this way. The principal uses will be for setting standards nationally, delivering standards locally and monitoring standards externally.