Hospital record under microscope

INVESTIGATIONS are underway today, to find out why Ipswich Hospital's record for deaths after surgery and re-admissions was not good enough for Department of Health assessors.

By Tracey Sparling

INVESTIGATIONS are underway today, to find out why Ipswich Hospital's record for deaths after surgery and re-admissions was not good enough for Department of Health assessors.

As the Evening Star revealed last month , Ipswich Hospital was downgraded from two to one-star status in the latest NHS performance ratings.

Disappointed hospital chiefs immediately pledged to get better and become a three-star trust which would bring more funding, and an inability to stick to a two-week cancer wait for patients was blamed for the low rating.

But now an Evening Star investigation has discovered the hospital's record for 'deaths after surgery' and 'emergency re-admissions' had to be discounted.

And it is not the first time hospital records have failed to satisfy assessors – in December 1998 bosses were criticised by the Audit Commission for not collecting information about day surgery and waiting list rates in the right way.

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Ipswich death rates sent to the Department of Health have not yet been published within the report on its website – leaving an empty void under the hospital's name – but the Evening Star is now pursuing the truth.

Because of the data shortfall, Ipswich Hospital had to be listed in the lowest band possible – performing 'significantly below average' – on seven out of nine categories, in the 'clinical focus' section of the report.

And of the remaining two categories, one was not applicable because it related to heart bypass operations which Ipswich does not offer, and the hospital performed above average for managing the risk of medical negligence.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said today: "We apply rigorous checks on the quality of data submitted by trusts that are used in the calculation of the clinical indicators included in performance ratings.

"Major problems were found in the quality of the data supplied by Ipswich Hospital. As a result, the clinical indicators produced for this Trust were considered to be unreliable and could not be used in the calculation of the performance ratings. These indicators are also withdrawn from publication on the website to avoid misleading the public and other users of the information.

"On each of the indicators affected by the data quality issues, Ipswich, along with other Trusts which have similar problems, is given the lowest possible rating. This reinforces the need for trusts to submit high quality data to enable their performance to be assessed accurately and ensures that there are no perverse incentives for Trusts to submit poor quality data."

A spokeswoman for Ipswich Hospital admitted there had been a 'major problem' with the data submission.

She said: "We submitted all the information requested, but the performance ratings report omitted a quarter of a year's work so the analysis was flawed.

"We do not accept that in seven out of nine categories we were below average. We do accept that in two areas – deaths after surgery and emergency readmissions, we are performing slightly below the norm, according to an independent assessment.

"The medical director Ian Scott always investigates any areas where we deviate from the norm. The difference here is very marginal- a very small number but statistically that has an impact."

Capel-St Mary-based GP, Dr Gareth Richards, chairman of the Local Medical Committee said deaths after surgery were rare, and added: "A high readmission rate is due to the pressure on the hospital to get people out of a much-needed bed quickly, and the pressure to meet government waiting list targets."

He said fears about patients catching the antibiotic-resistant infection MRSA in hospital may also lead to doctors discharging them sooner.

Terry Green, member of Suffolk County Council's executive committee said readmission rates were under discussion, and said: "There is pressure to get people out of beds, and sometimes it may be that that happens too quickly. It isn't in anyone's interest for a patient to be discharged then have to be readmitted."


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