Massive variations in NHS doctors’ performance and a widespread failure to collect data to show them how they are doing have been splashed across the press over recent days.
After making extensive freedom of information requests The Guardian found large variations in death rates for vascular surgery at 116 hospital trusts and said in some areas the mortality rate was “unacceptable”.
It reports that patients were less likely to die in bigger hospital units where surgical teams carried out more of the operations - something NHS managers have been arguing for years, of course.
The paper argues the results suggest smaller units should close but this is at odds with health secretary Andrew Lansley’s recent decision to halt closures. The death rates in question vary from one in 50 in some hospitals to one in 10 at others.
A further angle for the paper was how the information obtained under FOI differed from that on the NHS Choices website. The website’s data is based on hospital episode statistics, which the Department of Health says is authoritative, but the paper says NHS insiders see it as unreliable.
Mr Lansley will not escape the story even if he steers clear of the left wing press; The Daily Telegraph also picked it up and highlighted the findings’ clash with his plans.
But it is high performing consultants who come in for scrutiny in the Daily Mail. The paper looked at the £202m of reward payments given to consultants in England for medical research or outstanding contributions to patient care.
It says last year almost 300 consultants took home payments of £76,000 on top of their salaries and 660 got payments of more than £56,000. It questions the validity of such payments when NHS budgets are being squeezed.