Jeremy Hunt orders yearly study of 'avoidable' hospital deaths

media captionDeath rates fell faster than the average in trusts which had undergone emergency intervention

New plans to reduce the number of "avoidable deaths" in English hospitals have been unveiled by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Mr Hunt said an annual review of 2,000 cases of patients who later died would allow hospitals to be ranked according to avoidable mortality rates.

Mr Hunt said there were about 1,000 avoidable deaths in the NHS per month.

Labour called the plans "insufficiently ambitious" and said it would review the case notes of all such patients.

The announcement from Mr Hunt comes as new research suggests hundreds of deaths were probably avoided because of a decision to put 11 failing English hospital trusts into special measures.

'Laser-like focus'

Mr Hunt said the notes taken by staff relating to the treatment of a sample of 2,000 patients who later died would be examined every year to determine whether mistakes had been made.

These statistics would be used to establish a national rate of avoidable deaths.

As part of the drive, hospital chairmen will have to update the health secretary every year with their plans to eradicate avoidable deaths.

Mr Hunt also promised additional training for new clinical staff.

"I'm determined to go even further in rooting out poor care, and have ordered a national case-note review to work out the percentage of avoidable deaths by hospital," he said.

"I want all hospital boards to have a laser-like focus on eradicating avoidable deaths in their organisation; even one life lost to poor care or safety error is too many."

Trusted custodian

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "The review will be used to establish a national rate of avoidable deaths every year, and on that basis place individual hospitals into bandings according to the number of deaths estimated locally."

Labour said it would "look at the detail, but from what we have seen this does not appear ambitious enough". It added it was "looking at whether we can go further and have a mandatory review of case notes for every death in hospital - not just for a sample of cases as Jeremy Hunt proposes".

BBC political correspondent Chris Mason said that with the general election just three months away, the prize of being perceived as a trusted custodian of the NHS was highly sought after by all political parties.

He said the existing estimate of 12,000 annual avoidable deaths in the NHS was seen by the health secretary as broadly in line with similar healthcare systems abroad, such as those in France and Germany, but was still too high.

Hospital mortality rates expert Professor Nick Black said: "A national annual review would place England as the first country in the world to monitor the extent of avoidable deaths, and provide a basis for stimulating quality improvement in each individual hospital."

On Saturday, the health service ombudsman warned the NHS over shortcomings in the way it investigated cases where poor care resulted in death or injury.

Dame Julie Mellor said she had found that 40% of investigations into patient complaints were inadequate.

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