A promised new indicator of hospital death rates is unlikely to be ready until the autumn, HSJ has learned.

A Department of Health review of how the NHS uses mortality rates, published in November, said a new measure, called the summary hospital-level mortality indicator, should be introduced “no later than April 2011”.

Its introduction would see the publication of government-approved hospital death rates for the first time.

But a DH statement to HSJ said it was still working “to finalise the precise risk adjustment method that will be used for the SHMI”. A spokesman said: “We expect to publish the new SHMI shortly.”

Internal discussion between those working on the indicator, seen by HSJ, shows there have been unexpected delays in analytical work.

Several sources involved in the discussions said the first SHMI figures now look unlikely to be published before the autumn.

Hospital standardised mortality ratios, published for several years by Dr Foster Intelligence, have proven controversial and some people have questioned whether they accurately reflect quality of care.

The review was launched early last year to try to clear up the dispute.