Surgeons have ‘moral responsibility’ to publish death rates, says NHS chief

20 November 2014

Surgeons have ‘moral responsibility’ to publish death rates, says NHS chief

New website launched containing data on outcomes for 5,000 surgeons in renewed bid for medical transparency.

The medical director of the NHS, Sir Bruce Keogh, has said that surgeons have a moral responsibility to make public their death rates in operations. His bid to see greater transparency in the NHS had led to the launch of a website (My NHS, which is part of NHS Choices) containing data on outcomes for 5,000 NHS surgeons.

The website My NHS includes data on food quality, staffing, patient safety, mental health and other areas of care all of which can be searched by website visitors. From early December it will include the Care Quality Commission’s individual risk rating for GP practices. has long maintained that transparency is a necessary part of better patient outcomes in the future and can encourage a heightened safety culture, more openness and lead to a development in work culture that lets patients know exactly who is treating them and how their skills and performance have been assessed.

Speaking to The Guardian Sir Keogh said:

“Anyone who does an intervention to somebody else has a professional and moral responsibility to be able to describe what they do and defend how well they do it. “That is the essence of professionalism. They should be happy to share that with their patients. In a sense what this endeavour does is demonstrate a new level of professionalism.”

Keogh said that the data was collected by the surgical associations themselves and that publication increases transparency and will encourage surgeons to try to improve if faults are highlighted.

The data covers 10 of the 13 surgical specialities – the rest will be added in the coming weeks. The performance of the vast majority of surgeons is within an acceptable range, but a very few are not.

“In all of this we have found three surgeons who were outliers [poorer outcomes than the norm], but if this really works, we pick up people with whom there are concerns well before we get to the publication stage,” said Keogh.

Honesty & Transparency is key in patient care outcomes

He did not give further information on the three outliers. “They know, their hospitals know and their specialist associations know,” he said. “The combination of those three means appropriate action can be taken.”

The Royal College of Surgeons said it supported NHS England’s commitment to provide more information to patients. “Patients and surgeons should have honest and open conversations about the likely outcome of their surgery and best treatment options available,” said its president, Clare Marx. “Publishing consultant outcomes is just one step for ensuring that dialogue and trust is present.”

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