The borough’s hospital bosses have welcomed a bold move by the Government to get the NHS to publish full figures on avoidable patient deaths.
Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh (WWL) NHS Foundation Trust said it had pioneered transparency on the issue over the previous decade and the Department of Health (DoH) announcement was seen as a good chance to share its practice with other hospitals.
Health minister Jeremy Hunt has said the transparency drive, the first of its kind in the world, was a “brave” policy which would encourage an open culture about learning from medical errors.
WWL said it also agreed with ministers that the data would not be directly comparable across hospitals as some Trusts are already more open than others.
A WWL spokesman said: “Over the last 10 years WrightWWL has led the way in learning from deaths.
“During this time we have completed a weekly review of deaths to enable us to learn lessons and share that learning throughout the organisation.
“Additionally, we have worked with other organisations and researchers as lessons and processes have been developed.
“WWL welcomes the DoH’s initiative and recognises that other organisations will now be able to learn in the way that the Trust has been doing for the last decade.
“Like the DoH, we do not consider that league tables should be created or released.
“While the process is similar for organisations, there are important differences between organisations that can never be taken into account when comparing rates.
“The importance of this work is the organisational learning.
“WWL will release data in line with the DoH’s initiative. Rates of potentially preventable deaths have been released previously.
“We look forward to working with other organisations to learn, develop and protect our patients.”
WWL said its information was released under the terms of a large study which found a death rate of around three per cent was standard, with percentages lower than that therefore considered good and higher indicating some cause for concern.
The Trust said its rate last year was 2.5 per cent.
The system has not been without its critics, with Professor Brian Jarman who broke the Mid-Staffs scandal suggesting earlier this year that NHS Digital underplayed death rates at Trusts including WWL.
Prof Jarman said using different internationally-recognised ways of measuring mortality meant WWL’s rate should have been high rather than average for at least the last four years.
WWL has acknowledged 2016 saw the number of people dying in hospital rise for the first time in a decade.
Consultant paediatrician Dr Martin Farrier, who studied the issue in more depths, said patients arriving in hospital are becoming older and frailer and living with more serious medical conditions.
Dr Farrier also responded strongly to Prof Jarman’s claims, saying the way the hospital Trust calculates death rates takes most factors into account and is therefore the most reliable method.
By the end of this year 170 out of 223 Trusts will provide information on patient deaths they believe could have been avoided.
Mr Hunt said lesson-learning could also help NHS staff when patients die, which is extremely traumatic for them.
He also claimed that threats of litigation or disciplinary action had sometimes prevented transparency.
Mr Hunt said: “This is putting in place structures which all over the world they are looking at the NHS and saying this is a remarkable thing to do, it’s very, very brave.”