Surgeons' death rates published in Scotland

The death rates for all Scottish surgeons have been published for the first time after NHS Scotland was forced to reveal the totals under the Freedom of Information Act.

NHS Scotland originally refused the journalists' requests last year, but the Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion, overturned the NHS decision. He is reported as saying that the public has a right to know and is perfectly capable of understanding the figures which, he insists, are not technical.

The NHS warned that high death rates may indicate a skilled surgeon who tends to take on high-risk cases. One surgeon had a death rate of 100% for emergency heart surgery - but he only saw one emergency patient, and that patient died. The outcome of surgery is heavily influenced by the severity of illness and by the presence of other conditions unrelated to the surgical problem.

Clive Davis, chairman of the BMA's Scottish consultants committee, said: "While we support the publication of surgical mortality rates in principle, we do have concerns about how this information is presented and interpreted by the general public." He pointed out that information about the outcomes of one surgeon would not necessarily take into account the role of the anaesthetist or other members of the theatre team.

First surgery death rates issued (BBC News website, 6 February 2006)

Mortality rates (NHS Scotland website, 6 February 2006)