Heart deaths up to seven times higher with some surgeons

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A patient's chance of dying after an operation can be up to seven times higher with some surgeons than with others, figures revealed today by some of Britain's largest NHS trusts suggest.

A patient's chance of dying after an operation can be up to seven times higher with some surgeons than with others, figures revealed today by some of Britain's largest NHS trusts suggest.

Patients will for the first time be able to check the records of their surgeons before going under the knife. The data is being made available in response to requests under the Freedom of Information Act ushering in a new era of openness in the NHS.

It marks the culmination of a decade of growing pressure on doctors to be more open about what they do. Since the Bristol children's heart surgery disaster in the 1990s, when surgeons continued operating despite high risks, patients have demanded the right to know how safe they are with their doctors.

But some surgeons could refuse to operate on high-risk patients because of the effect an extra death could have on their position in the league table. "It is already happening," one London heart specialist said yesterday.

Results from the first trusts to publish their figures show death rates as high as 8 per cent after all types of cardiac surgery and more than 5 per cent after coronary bypass surgery. Other trusts are expected to follow suit.

However, some of the figures are not adjusted for risk - taking account how severely ill the patients are - so comparisons between surgeons are difficult. A surgeon with a high death rate may be the most skilled and experienced who is operating on the sickest patients.

St George's Healthcare NHS Trust claimed yesterday to be the first in London to publish details of cardiac mortality for its five surgeons on its website. The results show that Robin Kanagasabay, 39, who has been a consultant surgeon for three years, has the lowest death rate.

Mr Kanagasabay said: "New consultants do tend to have good results. The training has become more rigorous over time and we have been aware of audit and monitoring."

But, he added: "The danger is that surgeons will shy away from doing the high-risk cases. It is already happening. These are the patients with most to gain from surgery so that will be a very negative consequence."

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