Sheffield surgeon among six to opt out of NHS death rates table

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A Sheffield surgeon is among just six medics who refused to be included on a list of almost 500 consultants to have their individual mortality rates published by the NHS.

Robert Lonsdale, who works at the Northern General Hospital, opted out of being featured in a new ‘league table’ revealing the success of heart and vascular surgeons’ operations.

In a set of reasons given for his decision, Mr Lonsdale said he disagreed with the idea in principle.

Patients can now see the number of times a consultant has carried out a procedure, their mortality rate and whether or not they are performing within the expected range in tables being published online.

The move, hailed as a ‘world first’, is part of steps towards ‘greater transparency’ in the health services.

The first tables, for vascular and cardiac surgery, have been published on the NHS Choices website, with just six opting out of the 472 vascular consultants nationwide.

Officials said all six of the surgeons perform within the ‘expected range’.

In the coming months, data will become available on 3,500 medics across England from 10 specialties and it is understood that it will eventually be rolled out to incorporate all surgical consultants.

A spokeswoman for the Royal College of Surgeons said ‘fewer than 30’ medics across the 10 fields covered did not agree that their data could be published but none of them had results that were considered to be significantly different from their colleagues.

The move has sparked much debate in the medical community, with some experts saying the data may not paint a true picture of performance.

Prof Julian Scott, president of the Vascular Society, said: “Surgeons in these tables should not be ranked by their mortality rate as there is a risk that they will be wrongly criticised and patients misled. Some are conducting extremely difficult surgery on very sick people so will have relatively high mortality rates.”

Prof Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director for NHS England, said: “The NHS is on a journey with transparency. The more we shine lights into the corners of the NHS, the more you will see. That can be hard for NHS staff and policy makers. But it is the right thing to do.

“The data results show mortality levels. But in the majority of cases the issue is, how will an operation or procedure improve the quality of a patient’s life? Over time, the information that will be available will expand to include more indicators which reflect this important quality measure.”

Figures for obesity surgery, interventional cardiology, orthopaedic and urological surgeons are due to be published before July 5. Bowel, stomach and intestine, and head and neck cancer surgeons’ statistics will be made public in Autumn.