Returns to the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre show that 'on average one of every five ICU patients die on the unit', rising to 'one in three when subsequent deaths on the wards are included'.

But in some intensive care units 'as many as three out of every five patients die'.

Jonathan Boyce, associate director of the Audit Commission's public sector research directorate, said all trusts should belong to a benchmarking 'club'.