NHS hospitals have been “fiddling” their death rate figures by falsely claiming that patients were terminally ill, according to new research.
The new figures, which show that the number of “terminal” illnesses have risen five times since 2006, have caused concerns that hospitals could be covering up for poor care.
Every hospital on the NHS has to collect data on how its death rates compare to what would be expected, but if a case is described as “palliative” – i.e. the patient had a terminal illness and was expected to die anyway – it doesn’t normally count towards to death rate.
The huge increase in the number of “palliative” cases has now sparked concern that hospitals are deliberately misreporting deaths in order to cover up for those caused by poor quality treatment.
Roger Taylor, director research at healthcare analysts Dr Foster Intelligence, said: “The trends we are seeing are troubling – they are deeply concerning. Poor quality data is harming patients because you can’t see where things are going wrong. If the data is not being recorded consistently and, moreover, if that isn’t picked up because of a lack of auditing there is a risk that poor patient care is being disguised, and the public misled.”
Joyce Robins of Patient Concern told the Daily Telegraph: “Hospitals are clearly fiddling these figures and that frightens me. Hospitals are just not open enough to admit what is happening – instead they dream new ways to disguise it. All the talk of transparency is just that – talk.”
In 2010, the government launched a public inquiry after it was revealed that between 400 and 1,200 patients had died at the small Stafford Hospital due to poor care between 2005 and 2009. The scandal took years to come fully to light, due in part to the poor reporting of death figures.
The subsequent enquiry found that almost every level in the NHS chain of command failed to do its job properly.
These new figures will raise concerns that the same could be happening across the NHS.
Charlotte Leslie MP, who is member of the House of Commons health committee said: “This is very worrying data. We already know that at the time of the Mid Staffs scandals, hospitals were fiddling the figures to massage their mortality rates.”
2These figures suggest that hospitals are still fiddling the figures to put their own reputation and that of their managers ahead of patient safety.”