NHS postcode lottery 'costing lives'

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An NHS 'postcode lottery' means that patients are nearly twice as likely to die in some hospitals than others, research claims today.

Dr Foster Research, an independent health information company, found that if all NHS trusts with higher than expected mortality rates were to reduce these in line with the expected average, some 7,400 deaths would have been avoided in 2005/6.

Although there has been a fall in poorly performing trusts – 44 to 36 from 2002 to 2006 – standards of patient care still vary widely, the report found.

Published today in the Daily Telegraph, which commissioned the research, the study of 152 NHS trusts claims that the Midlands based George Eliot Hospital NHS trust is the hospital where people are at greatest risk of dying.

Patients at that hospital were nearly twice as likely to die than patients at the hospital with the lowest mortality rates, the Royal Free Hampstead NHS trust, which serves north London and Hertfordshire.

Roger Taylor, Dr. Foster's research director, said: "Now that people are being given greater choice over where they are treated, hospitals will need to reassure patients that they offer the highest standards of care.

"The [Daily Telegraph's] hospital guide shows that all too often this is not the case. But it also reveals just how much can be achieved by hospitals that are determined to improve standards and deliver excellent service."

Responding to the report, the Department of Health (DoH) issued caution over patients using one guide to assess hospitals.

"We need to be careful in using just one measure to assess safety in our hospitals. Some have higher mortality rates because they take on more complex work, but obviously patient safety will always be the key priority," a DoH spokesperson said.

"At present it can be difficult for patients to get a true picture of a hospital's overall performance from the available data because it covers so many different areas. We will, however, be bringing all the available data together in a new website which will help patients make informed choices about their health and healthcare."

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