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Bowel cancer operations death rate at north Cumbria hospitals is ‘bad luck’

“Bad luck” has been blamed for alarming death rates in patients undergoing bowel cancer surgery in Carlisle and Whitehaven.

Action plan: West Cumberland Hospital

Frank Hinson, consultant colorectal surgeon, revealed that the most recent report available shows the percentage of patients who died in north Cumbria following such operations was almost four times higher than the national average.

Between August 2010 and July 2011, 12.5 per cent of those who underwent bowel cancer surgery at the Cumberland Infirmary and West Cumberland Hospital died within 30 days of the operation. This compares to an average of 3.3 per cent for England and Wales.

Mr Hinson spoke at a meeting of the North Cumbria University Hospitals Trust board where he admitted the figures are “quite alarmingly higher than the average”, and outlined what had been done to address the figures.

He explained there are two sets of figures – those for crude mortality, looking at all deaths, and those “adjusted” taking into account factors like age, severity of illness and general health of the patient.

It was this second set of figures that Mr Hinson based his report on. The consultant admitted that on closer examination the way this data had been collected “wasn’t particularly good”.

In the past these figures were submitted to the National Bowel Cancer Audit Project by the Northern Region Colorectal Cancer Audit Group. They are now being submitted directly from the hospital.

Mr Hinson told board members that both the mean and average age of those who underwent the surgery was 77, with the youngest patient aged 69.

Of those who died, 14.3 per cent were emergency operations – in which a patient is six times more likely to die, the consultant said.

“We’ve looked at these deaths and, even in hindsight, only in one case we perhaps would have been better not to have operated,” he explained. “We would have made the same decision to operate.”

Mr Hinson continued: “High mortality was probably due to chance, but the fact that bad luck happens to you doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take steps to prevent being a victim of bad luck again. We never reach perfection in this kind of business: we always try to do things better.”

He told the board the data uploaded in December was significantly improved and he was “very confident” next year’s report would show the trust “back in the pack”.

Interim chief executive Ann Farrer stressed to the board and the public that this was an example of the trust’s new proactive and transparent approach.

“It’s a wonderful example of the team saying here is what has been happening,” she said, “and we have got an improvement plan going forward. Get used to open debates as a way of the future.”

Afterwards, she told the News & Star: “This was a random incidence of slightly higher than expected mortality rates – two or three extra patients out of around 100 – in one year out of 10.

“We have learnt lessons from this to enhance our data quality.”

The Bowel Cancer UK charity declined to comment on the figures.

Have your say

I had bowel cancer in 2011 i must have had it caught early , they took most off the large bowel,then had chemo and am clear i was 62, from seeing the gp to going into hospital was 6 weeks

Posted by grace watson on 30 January 2013 at 15:26

Nothing changes in Medical opinions where there is no consensus, as my Father died in 1950 of stomach cancer and my belief is he was rubbished by a GP for 6 months with antacid medicine then sent to hospital which was delayed,there he was opened up and stitched up and sent home nothing they could do for him,stomach burst open at home in bed e died aged 33yrs,nothing changes does it.

Yet they have the audacity to ridicule natural medicine and cures that have been around for decades but hushed up, see www.luogocomune.net it seems sinful to keep this from people.

Posted by Pete on 25 January 2013 at 16:45

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