TELEVISION / BRIEFING: Doctoring the records

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The Independent Culture
PANORAMA (9.30pm BBC1) tonight spoons up a dose of 'Bad Medicine'. Emily Smyth's documentary asks if patients are being given enough advice about where to have operations. Last June Debbie Coram was administered with a drug called Ritodrine to delay a premature birth for as long as possible. This drug brought on a fatal case of pulmonary oedema - a known side-effect that, Debbie's husband Kevin claims, hospital staff seemed unaware of. Some other hospitals appear better informed, with a protocol for dealing with Ritodrine. To avoid a repetition of such cases, would patients be better served by a league table of hospitals - as already in use in Pennsylvania? Or would it undermine the clinical freedom of which doctors are so protective? Figures would be hard to collect: Panorama films a derelict, overgrown outhouse at a Midlands hospital where records of deaths were stored. The papers were moved after a tramp used some of them to light a fire; others were destroyed by damp. Yet the system seems to have had success in the States. One patient with a heart condition says that referring to league tables is reassuring: it's like checking a chart of the best parachute-packers just before you jump out of a plane.

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