Twice as many patients are dying because of poor care after operations than previously thought
Death rate higher in Britain than countries such as Finland and EstoniaNearly four in 100 people having common forms of surgery die as a resultPatients are dying from blood poisoning, kidney failure and heart attacks
06:59 GMT, 21 September 2012
Sloppy NHS care after operations is costing the lives of thousands of patients, research shows.
Nearly four in 100 people having common forms of surgery die as a result – twice as many as once thought.
The study also found the death rate is higher in Britain than in many European countries, including Finland, Estonia and Hungary.
NHS troubles: Researchers said patients were dying from blood poisoning, kidney failure, heart attacks and strokes that medics had not picked up in time (file picture)
The researchers said patients were dying
from blood poisoning, kidney failure, heart attacks and strokes that
medics had not picked up in time.
A shortage of intensive care beds was also cited as a factor; there are fewer in NHS hospitals than in many other countries.
Andreas Hoeft, one of the Anglo-German study’s authors, who is based at the University Hospital in Bonn, said: ‘Nurses are coming into the room in the morning and finding somebody dead in their bed.
‘Many of the patients get sepsis, or blood poisoning, overnight and often it is not detected. The bad news is that mortality is higher than we thought but hopefully there is room for improvement.’
Rupert Pearse from Queen Mary, University of London, who led the research, said: ‘It’s certainly very worrying and I believe some of these deaths are preventable.
‘We need to get the overall mortality down to one in 100 deaths per patients.’
Concerns: The researchers looked at data on more than 46,500 patients in 28 European countries (file)
The researchers, whose study is in the Lancet, looked at data on more than 46,500 patients in 28 European countries. All had undergone surgery that required them to stay in hospital at least one night.
These included a vast range of procedures from hip replacements to hernia removal to operations to take out bowel cancer tumours.
The researchers did not include those who had undergone heart or brain surgery or women needing emergency operations during pregnancy.
They found that 3.6 per cent of British patients had died within 60 days of having the operation.
This figure is higher than in Finland, Norway, Estonia, Cyprus, Sweden and Switzerland – but the researchers said they needed to investigate further before they can conclude that National Health Service care is worse.
The research, which was partly funded by the European Society of Anaesthesiology, found that just 6 per cent of patients were admitted to intensive care.
This was lower than many other countries and a lack of available beds may partly explain the high death rates, according to the academics.
In 2010, Cambridge University researchers found there are 3.5 beds per 100,000 of the UK population compared with 24.6 in Germany, 20 in the US and 9.6 in France. Professor Heoft said that in order to bring down the death rates, the most at-risk patients needed to be monitored properly.
These include the elderly, those with diabetes, heart problems or kidney disease for example who are more likely to suffer complications.
He added: ‘Simply calling for more intensive care unit beds will not solve the problem.
'It’s certainly very worrying and I believe some of these deaths are preventable. We need to get the overall mortality down to one in 100 deaths per patients'
Rupert Pearse, research leader from Queen Mary, University of London
‘New, cost-effective ways of identifying and monitoring patients at risk must be developed.’
The researchers said that it wasn’t the surgery that was poor, but rather the after care. Medical staff were not doing enough to monitor patients so any sudden deterioration in their health was often going undetected.
They should carry out regular checks of their blood pressure, heart rate, breathing and temperature up to five times a day.
But many hospitals do not have enough adequately trained doctors or nurses to carry out the checks and who also know what to do when patients suddenly deteriorate.
Professor Bruce Keogh, the NHS medical director, said: ‘The NHS is already among the best in Europe for some surgery specialties but these reports are vital as they show surgeons where they need to improve.’