Researchers are calling for the reoperation rate to be used as a quality indicator after a study found some hospitals were up to five times more likely to reoperate after colorectal surgery than others.

A team from Imperial College’s Dr Foster Unit and department of surgery, which included former health minister Lord Darzi, examined hospital episode statistics from 246,469 patients in 175 English hospital trusts who underwent colorectal surgery for the first time between 1 April 2000 and 31 March 2008.

The study, published by the British Medical Journal on Tuesday, found 15,986 patients needed further surgery, equivalent to 6.5 per cent.

There was a five-fold difference between the highest and lowest reoperation rates after elective surgery among trusts performing more than 500 procedures during the study period, with rates ranging from 2.8 per cent to 14.9 per cent.

In trusts performing more than 2,500 procedures the difference was three-fold, ranging from 3.7 per cent to 11.5 per cent.

The authors suggest the methodology would be “widely applicable to other surgical specialties”.

The report concludes: “If coding accuracy can be assured, we suggest that reoperation rates, along with existing quality indicators such as mortality, could offer a powerful means of checking quality of surgical care.”

Writing in the BMJ, Michigan University associate professor of surgery Arden Morris, welcomed the study but said mandatory reporting of reoperation rates would be “unlikely to result in a change in surgical technique”.