Big differences in operation costs between NHS hospitals

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Big differences in the cost to the NHS of providing the same treatments in different hospitals were revealed in figures published yesterday, pointing to widespread inefficiency in the health service.

Big differences in the cost to the NHS of providing the same treatments in different hospitals were revealed in figures published yesterday, pointing to widespread inefficiency in the health service.

A table of costs based on 20 million patients treated under 244 NHS trusts shows that a cataract operation is £300 cheaper in some hospitals than others (ranging from £664 to £954) and the cost of a hip replacement varies by up to £1,000 (ranging from £3,246 to £4,212).

Medical treatments included in the annual table for the first time include emergency treatment for pneumonia, which costs twice as much in some hospitals as others (ranging from £828 to £1,617).

Ministers declared that the figures in the National Schedule of Reference Costs 1999 would provide managers with a new weapon to tackle the "postcode lottery" of variations in access to care according to the patient's health authority.

John Denham, the Health minister, said the data would enable hospitals to identify where costs were high, explain them and take action to bring them down where necessary.

"There can be many reasons for varied costs, including the complexity of treatments carried out. At the same time, high costs and good quality do not always go together, nor do lower costs and poor quality ... We expect action to be taken if there is no good reason for the variation these figures reveal," he said.

The latest figures for medical treatments show that in 1998-99 the cost of treating lower-back pain, for example, including a stay in hospital, ranged from £638 to £1,578, with an average cost of £1,375

The table of costs is intended to be used with the clinical-performance tables published last summer, to give NHS trusts an idea of whether they are delivering value for money.

"Together with the detailed information on clinical outcomes already published, all parts of the NHS will be better able to use reference costs to ensure the best care is provided whilst ensuring the most effective use of resources," Mr Denham said.

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