Latest Survival Rates For Heart Surgery Published

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Heart units in the UK have signed up to the most rigorous and transparent regime ever for testing their performance.

And their performance, in terms of survival rates, is within the range expected.

Last year, heart surgeons joined forces with the healthcare watchdog, the Healthcare Commission, to make survival rates from surgery available through a public website.

In the past 12 months the site has become increasingly well-regarded, receiving thousands of visitors each month and allowing patients to make more informed decisions about their treatment.

Survival rates for heart surgery in 2005/06 have now been collated and the site updated. Some of the data have also been adjusted according to a new UK model for calculating expected survival rates.

Last year, the EuroSCORE model was used. This is an internationally recognised system that calculates expected survival rates for heart surgery, taking into account factors such as a patient's age and the severity of his or her illness. This process is called 'risk-adjustment'.

This tempered concerns that simply publishing crude rates of survival or death without any such adjustments would deter surgeons from operating on patients that are higher risk - the very people who are most in need of the best surgeons.

There have been suggestions, however, that EuroSCORE is becoming outdated (given recent improvements in technology and surgical and anaesthetic techniques), and that this leads to the majority of hospitals achieving 'better than expected' survival rates.

Keen to become as open and transparent as possible, heart surgery units in the UK therefore agreed to put some of this year's figures through a new, 'tougher' model for the website's annual update. This allows patients to see how the units have performed against recent standards in the UK as well giving an idea of their performance against accepted European standards.

Survival rates for the two most common heart operations - heart bypass and aortic valve replacement - were calculated using the new model. Every unit had satisfactory survival rates.

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Nationally, the survival rate for heart bypass operations remained 'better than expected'. Between April 2005 and March 2006 there were 20,773 such operations in the UK: 98.4% of patients survived, above the expected range of 97.74% to 98.32%.

And a survival rate of 98.03% for the 3,504 patients undergoing aortic valve operations was comfortably within the expected range of 96.63% to 98.20%.

Professor Sir Ian Kennedy, Chairman of the Healthcare Commission, said:

"Trust between patients and doctors depends on reliable and meaningful information. Historically, it has not always been easy to obtain. This voluntary agreement by those working in cardiac surgery demonstrates how far we have come.

"Thirty eight units performing heart surgery in the UK have now signed up to the website. Moreover, they have taken the bold step of moving away from the EuroSCORE system. All involved deserve our congratulations.

"The new model, for measuring performance in light of the relevant risks, raises the bar in terms of assessing the quality of heart surgery in the UK. It also sets a marker for other disciplines. Our target must be to give greater information and confidence to any who have to undergo operations of any kind.

"We've made a start with heart surgery; others should follow."

Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, President of the Society for Cardiothoracic Surgery, added:

"Our specialty has achieved what many considered unachievable. We have spectacular, internationally competitive and highly consistent results across all units in the UK, despite patients being older and sicker and having much more complex operations than ever before."

As well as the new data for 2006, the website has also been 'cleaned up', removing any jargon and making it as user-friendly as possible. Information now available on the website includes:

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