i Editor's Letter: Is it wise to publish surgeon death rates?

 

 

Who wants to find the grim reaper of surgeons looming over the end of the operating table, with a scythe instead of a scalpel?

The NHS decision to publish individual surgeons’ death rates is borne of a commendable desire for transparency in an age of fractured public trust. The dangers are already apparent, though.

Some of Britain’s most skilled, experienced surgeons are renowned for taking on the trickiest cases. So a doctor whose stats suggest he’s taking commission from the Big Man may in fact be beating the odds every week in keeping so many of his patients alive.

When a chum of mine agreed to an operation to try to remove a rare cancer of the spine (it’s disconcerting when the consultant smiles and declares: “Yes, very unusual!”) he was warned that it carried a risk of paralysis, maybe death. But the surgeon suggested they proceed with the op – rather than send him away to die slowly, far from the statistics columns. My friend recovered.

Publishing death rates will “put pressure on younger surgeons not to do any difficult surgery at all”, vascular surgeon Peter McCollum claimed yesterday, explaining why he has chosen to opt out.

Wise, then, while welcoming doctors’ disclosure, to take these death ratings with a healthy pinch of salt.

********

Thanks for such generous messages after yesterday’s Letter. Three days on and I’m still beaming.

Should rains fall on the Glastonbury 180,000 this weekend, please spare a thought for our colleague Chris Blackhurst, who is preparing for his new Wednesday column in i (hooray) by sleeping in a Somerset field in his yurt. Rumours of his Pyramid Stage debut are unfounded.

Twitter.com: @olyduff

Twitter.com: @olyduff

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea