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Health News

Row over 'avoidable' deaths in NHS trusts


A row between Andy Burnham, the former health secretary, and a government adviser escalated yesterday as the one-time minister was accused of not doing enough in response to warnings about high death rates in hospitals. Professor Brian Jarman claimed that more than 20,000 deaths among NHS patients could have been avoided if intervention had occurred earlier.

The professor, who developed the hospital standardised mortality ratio (HSMR) now used widely to rate NHS outcomes, said he sent Mr Burnham a list of hospital trusts with higher than average death rates in 2010, but no action was taken. Seven acute hospital trusts in his list are now on the Government's review of 14 hospital trusts flagged up for having high mortality rates.

Professor Jarman told The Independent on Sunday: "Andy Burnham had my figures – he didn't send me any evidence of CQC [Care and Quality Commission]... inspections, and I haven't seen the evidence yet."

Mr Burnham yesterday rejected claims that he did not do enough. He said on the Today programme that he acted "firmly" and "immediately" by replying to Professor Jarman, referring the data to the CQC and, later, by commissioning the first inquiry carried out by Robert Francis QC into Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust. He said the HSMR data was "new" and "the Government could not put its full weight behind it". Professor Jarman retaliated by insisting that "we should have been going in [to hospitals] and... looking at them".

Professor Jarman's comments come after the publication of the Francis report into poor care at Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust. Between 400 and 1,200 more patients died than would have been expected from 2005 to 2008. Patients at Stafford hospital were left sitting in their own faeces.

The professor said yesterday: "The very same Mid Staffordshire Hospital methodology that picked up the problem at Mid Staffs was what I sent [Burnham]. There was a whole group of trusts who had high HSMRs for a persistently long time. Some had even higher ratios than Mid Staffs."