The NHS in England is to become first healthcare system in the world to publish data on the number of “avoidable” deaths that occur in healthcare settings, the government has announced.
The move, revealed today by health secretary Jeremy Hunt, will see the NHS publish estimates of how many patients may have died as a result of problems in their care.
“Publishing this data will help give grieving families the openness and answers they deserve”
The Department of Health said the idea of publishing the data was intended to protect other patients in future by allowing trusts to “share lessons and learn from failings”.
It said the data would be published each quarter by individual trusts, with 171 of the 223 trusts in England having already released their first estimates or will have done so by the end of December.
However, each trust will “make its own assessment” of the number of deaths due to care problems and the data will “not be comparable and will not be collated centrally”, said the DH.
According to the department, this will allow trusts to “focus” on learning from mistakes and sharing lessons across their organisations and their local healthcare systems.
“This new level of transparency will be central to improving care”
The programme is likely to cover between 1,250 and 9,000 deaths, which research suggests is the number of deaths each year that may be down to problems in care, noted the DH.
It added that such deaths ranged from rare but high-profile failings in care, to those that involved terminally ill patients who died earlier than expected – likely to comprise the majority of cases.
By collecting the data and “taking action” in response to care failings, the DH said trusts would be able to give grieving families an “open and honest account” of the circumstances that led to a death.
It noted this was already happening in some places, such as University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which recently held its first memorial service for those who have died in its care.
The DH also highlighted Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust. As part of the Greater Manchester Partnership, it is working on mortality reviews to share lessons with other providers across the area.
“It is important that the information is used constructively and not to construct league tables”
Based on the numbers cited by the DH, the initiative will cover all acute non-specialist and specialist trusts, mental health trusts and community trusts, but not independent providers of NHS services.
Mr Hunt said: “Every death resulting from a failing in care is an absolute tragedy, and despite the NHS being ranked as the world’s safest healthcare system for a second time, we still have a long way to go.
“Too often I have heard from families saying that after mistakes happen they feel like a wall has gone up in the NHS, but publishing this data will help give grieving families the openness and answers they deserve,” he said.
“It marks a significant milestone in ensuring the NHS learns from every tragic case, sharing lessons across the whole system to prevent mistakes recurring and ultimately delivering safer care for all patients in the future,” he added.
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The move follows a promise made by Mr Hunt after a 2016 Care Quality Commission report concluded the NHS was missing opportunities to learn from patient deaths, and that too many families were not being included or listened to when an investigation happened.
Professor Ted Baker, chief inspector of hospitals at the CQC, said: “This new level of transparency will be central to improving care and ensuring the safety of the NHS services we all rely on.”
He said: “We will use this information alongside the findings of our inspections to identify where providers must make improvements and to share good practice where we find hospitals that are doing it well.”
Chris Hopson, chief executive of the organisation NHS Providers, noted that it was the first time any healthcare system had “attempted this approach to learning from deaths in care”.
He said it should lead to trusts engaging with families and carers “more openly and collaboratively”. “When this happens the experience, safety and quality of care is much better,” said Mr Hopson.
But he added: “It is important that the information is used constructively, in the spirit of learning and shared good practice, and not to construct league tables that would inevitably mislead and potentially alarm the public.”