Published: 18/04/2002, Volume II2, No. 5801 Page 8

Public health minister Yvette Cooper was last week challenged over unease within the cardiac profession about the publication of performance data on individual surgeons from 2004.

Consultant cardiothoracic surgeon Steve Livesey from Southampton General Hospital questioned the minister in front of an audience of over 500 NHS staff from the Modernisation Agency's coronary heart disease collaboratives. Mr Livesey said:

'The thing concerning cardiac surgeons more than anything else is the surgeon-specific data. It goes against the whole ethos of teamwork we have been working hard to foster.'

Ms Cooper said she was 'very sympathetic' to surgeons, 'but we live in a world where patients want information'. If surgeons and the NHS did not provide information about the track record of individuals then someone else would, she suggested.

She added: 'The question is how do we do it in a way that is supported by the Society of Cardiothoracic Surgeons and by professionals and so it does not become something used to beat people about the head and gives the wrong incentives to practice.'

The idea of surgeon-specific league tables was launched in January as part of the government's response to the Bristol Royal Infirmary report. The Office for Information on Healthcare Performance, under the auspices of the Commission for Health Improvement, will publish death rates within 30 days of surgery for each heart surgeon in England from 2004.

The Society of Cardiothoracic Surgeons has backed the idea, but has reservations about whether it will lead to defensive medicine.