A reign of error
July 21st 2008, 11:59
The UK government has come up with a novel way to improve efficiencies within the National Health Service. It's planning to pay a bonus to surgeons whose patients survive and recover.
The annoucement comes as a surprise to those of us who had naively assumed that that is what they're paid to do anyway, and it's just one of a raft of measures that incentivises hospitals to reduce rates of infections, readmissions and post-operative mobility.
This suggests that the UK taxpayer is currently paying for a sub-standard service, and this is exactly what he is getting. The USA health system, which is funded by health insurers, is going through a similar exercise. From next October, insurers are refusing to pay out on eight hospital errors that they consider are avoidable. These errors are costing insurance firms around $40 bn a year and, as a spokesperson for the industry pointed out, they are rewarding inefficiencies.
The UK government is taking a different line. Instead of penalising hospitals for their errors and poor work, it is instead paying out even more to those that provide a reasonable service.
This is yet another ineffective response from a Gordon Brown administration that is looking ever more indecisive and out-of-touch by the day.
It's administering a healthcare system that is failing badly. In the UK alone, 40,000 Britons die every year in hospital from avoidable errors, and this is based on a very conservative 2.2 times error rate for all admissions. A separate study put the rate at more like 4.75 per cent, which, if true, suggests a figure closer to 90,000 deaths a year.
Overall, 850,000 errors occur in UK hospitals every year, and it's a problem that is not going to go away by paying bonuses and incentives to hospitals that care to better that.
* Medical Mistakes: Who's Paying? is the special report in August's 'What Doctors Don't Tell You'. It will be with subscribers on Saturday, July 26. If you would like to subscribe, pleaseclick here.