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Record high death rates after surgery

THE record high death-rate for patients undergoing surgery in Irish hospitals is being investigated by the HSE.

Patients in Irish hospitals have a higher risk of dying after surgery than any other country in western Europe, a medical conference in Dublin was told at the weekend.

As a result, HSE boss Tony O'Brien has said a "thorough audit" is being arranged by the HSE and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland to have a look back at all cases.

"This is a very important issue and we are responding to it," he said, adding that in the longer term, a National Office for Clinical Audit was being put in place. The conference was told that 6.4pc of patients here died after surgery, a rate which was considerably higher than the European average.

The meeting heard that in Norway, for example, just 1.5pc of patients died after surgery. The only countries with a worse rate than Ireland were Poland, Latvia and Romania.

The study of 46,500 patients in 28 countries found that an average of 4pc of patients died after common surgical in-patient operations including breast, orthopaedic, vascular, kidney and other procedures.

The research did not include heart procedures.


Doctors attending the meeting heard that mortality rates in different countries suggested that "preventable deaths are occurring" right across Europe.

National director for quality and patient safety at the HSE, Dr Philip Crowley, described the findings as "a smoke alarm".

He said the information was being reviewed as at the moment Ireland did not collate public comparable figures for individual hospitals. He said that a major national audit of surgical outcomes was imminent and this would provide more comprehensive data.

"If we find we're faring as badly as those figures suggest, that is serious", he said. "Intuitively, I don't feel that we lie in that space but I can't ignore this data". The outcome of the new review will be published next year and will include death rates by hospital and medical diagnosis.

Dr Crowley said the way in which data would be collected and recorded was being finalised with hospitals. It was complex to collate because a range of factors had to be considered. These included the age of the patient and the existence of other medical conditions at the time of the surgery.

The study was funded by the European Society of Intensive Care and the European Society of Anaesthesiology.