Health scare: Patient death report ranks Tamworth hospital as NSW's worst

HUNTER New England Health has reassured residents about the quality of care at Tamworth hospital after a report into patient deaths following heart attack and stroke revealed it was the worst performer in the state.

The report by the Bureau of Health Information, released yesterday, shows deaths within 30 days after hospitalisation for heart attack, ischaemic stroke, haemorrhagic stroke, pneumonia and hip fracture surgery.

Together, the five conditions account for about 20 per cent of all deaths in NSW hospitals.

It’s the first time in Australia these mortality measures have been published at the state level or for individual hospitals.

Overall, the results show deaths across the state have decreased in the past decade, but among 80 major hospitals in NSW for the period between July 2009 and June 2012, Tamworth hospital was the only one to have “higher-than-expected mortality” for four of the five conditions: heart attack, ischaemic stroke, pneumonia and hip fracture surgery.

Fifty-eight hospitals didn’t have higher-than-expected death rates for any of the conditions; 18 were higher for one of the five; three were higher for two conditions; and no hospital was higher for every condition.

Bureau of Health Information chief executive Jean-Frederic Levesque said the data shouldn’t be used for comparing or ranking hospitals, but it did highlight hospital settings that warranted further assessments, to identify potential areas of improvement.

It’s a view endorsed by Hunter New England Health chief executive Michael Dirienzo, who yesterday reassured the community they could have the utmost confidence in Tamworth hospital and its staff.

“Tamworth (hospital) is a leading rural referral hospital,” he told The Leader.

“There’s nothing in our quality and safety protocols that cause us any concern ... but we acknowledge it’s a good opportunity for us to look at what we’re doing.

“And we need to respond quickly, because we don’t want to alarm the community and give staff concerns that we don’t have confidence in them.”

Anne Duggan, the director of clinical governance and a leading gastroenterologist, said the report was a flag for further investigation, but it was just one tool when it came to analysing performance.

She said there could be any number of factors influencing the data, including the distance patients had to travel from other smaller hospitals in the region and how sick they were when they were finally transferred.

The impact of a larger Aboriginal population, with a higher rate of health problems, on the results was also unknown.

Mr Dirienzo said the report was being taken very seriously and they had already moved to address concerns, by organising a meeting of senior Tamworth hospital medical officers last night.

“They will be quite surprised (by the findings), because they’re proud of the service they’re providing and we’re proud of what they’re doing,” he said yesterday.

“But we will use the meeting to talk about our next steps and get some feedback from them.”

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