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Tuesday 2 September 2014

Surgeons' privacy fears delay move to monitor death rates

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

Published 27/03/2013 | 05:00

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A plan to audit and supervise death rates in hospital surgical units for the first time has been put on hold due to fears about confidentiality and doctors being identified.

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The idea is to find out if the skills of surgeons are up to par and whether patients are being put in harm's way.

Although this information is collected as standard in other countries, there is a dearth of data on standards here and there are major gaps in precise knowledge about the the level of care surgery patients receive.

It was hoped that more supervision of death rates among patients who undergo surgery in different hospitals would give more of an insight into standards and help find where there were lapses in care. It would take into account the complexity of different cases.

However, the exercise has now been delayed because of fears that the surgeons involved could be identified and the process would not be fully confidential.

The checks were due to be carried out as part of the Irish Audit of Surgical Mortality, which wold be overseen by the Health Service Executive and the National Office of Clinical Audit (NOCA) at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

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It was designed to compare the death rates of individual surgeons who perform the same operation and find out if any of the doctors need re-training.

But Ken Mealy, who was to direct the audit, has confirmed it has now been delayed because of data protection issues, according to irishhealth.com.

There were worries that the family members of a patient who had died after surgery could go to court and seek a copy of the audit undertaken of the surgeon.

There were also fears that the surgeons who performed the audit could be identified, he added.

The legal issues around this are now being examined, although the proposal to begin the audit has not been shelved.

Meanwhile, Ciaran Breen, head of the State Claims Agency which handles compensation claims brought against public bodies, said he has welcomed what amount to guidelines from the Taxing Master in relation to legal costs associated with clinical negligence claims.

One of the guidelines relates to the practice by some solicitors of putting expert witnesses who appear in court on behalf of the plaintiff in a five-star hotel.

Mr Breen said the Taxing Master was of the view that "this was a luxury in respect of which the defendant was not obliged to indemnify the plaintiff".

Irish Independent

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