Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally

NHS death rate 45% higher than in United States

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NHS is a death trap

NHS is a death trap

So are you going into hospital in the UK’s “wonderful” NHS soon? You might wish you were being treated in America.

Professor Sir Brian Jarman who pioneered the use of hospital standardised mortality ratios (HSMRs) to measure higher (or lower) than expected death rates last week released previously unpublished data showing horrific death rates in NHS hospitals during 2004. Sir Brian was so shocked he thought his data must be wrong and has spent months having his data scrutinised by other academics to look for a flaw in his methodology. They couldn’t find one. Sir Brian then felt compelled to publish and the alarming results were broadcast by Channel 4 News last week.

Sir Brian calculated if you are treated in an NHS hospital you are five times more likely to die from pneumonia and twice as likely to be killed by blood poisoning than if you had the SAME procedure in the United States. Death rates in NHS hospitals in 2004 were also 22.5 per cent higher than six other western countries including Canada and France. Once the figures were adjusted the NHS death rate was 58% higher in England than the average in the best performing of the seven countries.

The data of course is nearly 10 years old and death rates in recent years are not yet available.

The NHS is clearly not the “envy of the world”, as the Left love to call the bloated state provider of healthcare. Once you push past the grinning politicians who extol our “wonderful” doctors and nurses the experience hundreds of thousands of people have when treated by the NHS is far from wonderful. In thousands of cases, families found the NHS needlessly killed their loved one.

So why is the United States far better at keeping people alive when they go into hospital for a routine operation? Professor Sir Brian Jarman believes – rightly in my opinion – that the US has a more transparent health care system that has a culture of flagging up failings so they can be dealt with quickly and subsequently improving the health care service for the patient. In the UK, if a manager or nurse voices a concern about resources on a ward or a drop in safety standards in an operating theatre they can expect to receive the cold shoulder at best, or be sacked (through vexatious performance management procedures) at worse.

The culture in the NHS is the same as the rest of the public sector and summed up best by Sharon Shoesmith, who oversaw the children’s services department at Haringey Council that allowed Baby Peter to die, when in response to that tragedy she said: “I don’t do blame“.

No one in the NHS is held accountable for mistakes. It’s always the disembodied “system” that is at fault. Managers can’t (of course!) blame individuals despite it being an individual nurse who leaves food out of reach of elderly patients or spends so much time stuck in the nurses pod that they don’t realise an elderly woman is being forced to drink water from a dirty vase to stay alive because she has not been provided a drink by our “wonderful” nurses. 

NHS England chief: Sir David Nicholson

NHS England chief: Sir David Nicholson

It’s not just nurses and doctors at fault. Managers in the NHS are also guilty individuals when it comes to preventing needless deaths. Sir David Nicholson, the outgoing boss of NHS England, was a classic case of who gets rewarded and promoted in the NHS. Sir David presided over the deaths of thousands in his previous job as head of the Mid-Staffordshire NHS trust where 3000 died but he “played the game” and ensured no fuss was made and that Stafford Hospital’s goal to achieve the coveted Foundation status was kept on track by meeting Labour’s Whitehall-imposed targets. So what was Sir David’s reward to adhering to the “I don’t do blame” NHS culture? Why, promotion to chief executive of NHS England of course! For good measure, Sir David even went to Parliament when the Mid-Staffordshire killing field was uncovered and lied misled MPs when he said Gary Walker, former head of United Lincolnshire NHS Trust, had not identified himself as a whistleblower when he raised patient safety concerns to Nicholson in a 2009 letter to him. 

Is it any wonder NHS patients are almost 60 per cent more likely to die in hospital compared with patients in the country with the best mortality rates?

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Author: gavinmaclure

IT professional; political blogger, former Conservative councillor

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