Tables naming trusts with high death rates could be misinterpreted by patients and “scare local populations”, patient champions and data specialists have claimed.
Their warning comes a week after the Care Quality Commission identified trusts subject to mortality alerts last week for the first time.
Picker Institute head of policy and communications Don Redding welcomed the increased accountability but said patients would struggle to interpret the data.
His comments echo fears that trusts will be unfairly labelled as “bad apples” by patients unable to distinguish between alerts caused by coding errors and those identifying serious problems.
Mr Redding said: “Patients won’t understand it [the data]. The main thing they might get is whether their local trust has appeared more than once.”
There are 15 trusts that appear more than once in the CQC’s list of closed cases, but only two of these trusts had problems serious enough to require an action plan.
The trust that features most prominently in the list is Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust, which was subject to 11 alerts.
Mr Redding went on to suggest that local involvement networks might want to “pull trusts up” on issues highlighted in the list.
But, as only eight alerts in total required action plans, this could mean trusts will face demands for action in areas where there are no problems other than flawed data.
Paul Robinson, head of market intelligence at healthcare information firm CHKS, said the list of closed cases should be anonymised to avoid “scaring the local population.”
He expected local newspapers would be closely examining the data, which will now be published quarterly.
One acute trust chief executive said he doubted that the methodology used to draw up the list would be able to identify “bad apple” trusts.
“We don’t believe we’re one of those, but the mere inclusion of your name, particularly in the same breath as Mid Staffordshire, might draw others to a different conclusion.
“The automatic assumption from a member of the public, I suspect, would be ‘there must be a problem’, based on the high death rate trust moniker.”
Attempts to defend trusts against such claims would be dismissed by patient groups as overly defensive, the chief executive said.
But NHS Confederation policy director Nigel Edwards said the statistics were a potentially useful tool, acting as “early warning flags”.
He added: “They also seem to have a careful method for screening out chance events and misleading results to avoid premature conclusions.”