BMA Attacks Tables on Hospital Death Rates ; HEALTH Government Attempts to Raise Standards by Comparing Performance Judged to Be Failing as Concern Grows over Quality of Medical Care

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DEATH-RATE tables for hospitals, published annually by the Government, are misleading patients and unhelpful to doctors, the British Medical Association said yesterday.

The tables, published in England for the first time last year, are "too complicated" for the public and "insufficiently specific" to show individual doctors where they are going wrong, the BMA said in a report. However, it accepted that for health authorities and NHS trusts they "can probably help identify areas for further exploration".

Ministers have publicly accepted that the data on which the tables are based is crude but have argued that the best way of improving it, and encouraging hospitals and doctors to examine their performance, is to publish it.

Criticism of the tables, intended to raise standards in the NHS, was made as hospitals were accused in the House of Lords of neglecting basic hygiene. Baroness Young, a former Tory cabinet minister, advised patients to take their own supply of disinfectant into hospital "because you will find bathrooms in particular are dirty". She was backed by the Tory peer Lord Pilkington of Oxenford, who said when his wife had been in hospital two years ago she had to "clean a bath that was covered in blood".

A National Audit Office report last month claimed up to 5,000 patients were dying each year because of infections caught in hospital. Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, a Health minister, warned that the figures were extrapolated from America and should be treated with caution. "But I do accept that, very regrettably, there are patients who die because of an infection they acquire."

Demands for a way of comparing clinical performance of hospitals have been growing for a decade and a set of "clinical indicators" was introduced in England last year (death rates have been published in Scotland for several years). …