I was interested in the recent Radio 4 edition of More or Less which looked at the use of statistics in assessing the performance of hospitals. Inevitably Mid Staffordshire came up, particularly the question of the accuracy of the newspaper reporting that said 400 or more patients died due to poor standards of care.
Many people, including many journalists, thought that the figures came from the report of the Healthcare Commission, but they didn’t. The report was damning about some standards in some parts of the hospital at some times. But it didn’t make any claim that sub-standard care resulted in a particular number of deaths.
This claim was made in a newspaper headline shortly before the report was published.
As More or Less explained, the figures used came about by projecting a death rate from a statistic produced by the private business Dr. Foster. Dr. Foster produces “standardised mortality ratios” to enable the comparison of rates of death of patients in different hospitals after adjustments for variables such as patient intake, seriousness of incoming patients’ conditions and so on. The Radio 4 programme featured an expert in statistics who explained the limitation of these standardised mortality ratios and their weaknesses. As a result, he said it would be wrong to make claims about numbers of avoidable deaths in hospitals based solely on the Dr. Foster statistics.
Now the BMJ has published a report again making this point. You can find a report of the BMJ coverage at http://imi.announce.ie/hospital-dr/more/621/612
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