Hospital complication rates veiled in secrecy


There’s a hospital in Australia where one in every six patients suffers a complication, but we don’t know what hospital it is. Neither do its patients or the doctors who work there.

“A veil of secrecy” hangs over the hospitals and clinicians that have the highest complication rates and which hospitals are the safest, according to a new report by the Grattan Institute.

Published on 4 February 2018, the Grattan Report also argues that the federal government’s narrow definition of ‘preventable’ adverse events ignores the vast majority of complication rates, distorts the data and lulls some hospitals into a damaging sense of complacency.

The findings expose the fractures in Australian hospitals’ safety and quality monitoring, and propose ambitious reforms that could cut adverse event rates by more than one-quarter, the authors say – the equivalent of an additional 250,000 patients leaving hospitals complication-free each year.

One in nine patients in Australian hospitals between 2012 and 2015 suffered a complication – about 900,000 patients every year.  For patients who stay overnight, the rate of complications is one in four, about 725,000 patients a year.

The risk of complications varies dramatically depending on which hospital a patient goes to, ranging from 2.9 per cent of hospital admissions to 16.6 per cent.

They range from the catastrophic and rare cases such as the nitrous-oxide gassing of two newborn babies at Bankstown-Lidcombe Hospital in New South Wales in 2016 and the cluster of baby deaths at Bacchus Marsh Hospital in Victoria, to otherwise healthy patients contracting infections after surgery.

“Hospital safety statistics are collected, but they are kept secret, not just from patients but from doctors and hospitals,” the authors, led by Grattan Institute Health Program Director Stephen Duckett, wrote. “This has to change.”

“Patients have the right to know the data in complications rates in different hospitals and for different procedures, so they – and their GPs – can make better-informed decisions about how and where they are treated.”

MEAG COMMENT:  This is what we have reported for decades.  Time for change.

READ MORE of The Grattan Institute’s fine report:

All complications should count:  Using our data to make hospital safer

Veil of secrecy leaves Australian patients in the dark