21 Sep 2012

Concern over death rates after surgery

New figures analysing death rates from hospitals across Europe shows there could be twice as many post-op deaths as previously thought.

Surgeons in a Spanish hospital

A team from Queen Mary College, University of London, have compiled new figures from five hundred hospitals in twenty-eight European countries. Their research, published in The Lancet medical journal, suggests there is a post-surgery mortality rate of four percent, more than twice as high as previous estimates.

The researchers investigated more than 46,000 general surgery patients, who had all been monitored for up to sixty days after their operation.

In the UK, the post-op death rate was 3.6 percent, more than double the figure from an earlier study, which collected data over a much shorter time period.

The research also found a wide variation in death rates between countries,: patients in Poland, Latvia and Romania had the greatest chance of dying after surgery, while in Iceland the mortality rate was just 1.2 percent.

The study leader, Dr Rupert Pearse, blamed a lack of resources. “Nearly three quarters of patients who died were never admitted to intensive care”, he said. “Failure to allocate critical care resources to patients at greatest risk of death is a serious public health concern for patients undergoing surgery in Europe.”

The UK, which had the biggest number of cases involved in the study, was used as a reference point to compare the performances of other countries. Several other Western European nations had a worse record, including Ireland, Italy, Belgium, Portugal and France.

But the European Surgical Outcomes Study also found that heart patients, who are routinely admitted to critical care after a surgical procedure, have a much lower mortality rate of 2 percent.

But in other cases, according to the scientists: “critical care resources did not seem to be allocated to patients at greatest risk of death.”

They said their research raised important concerns about the way patients were treated, and the care they were given at a time they most needed it. Poor access to hospital services, for those at the very highest risk, could be affecting patients’ chances of survival.