Hospital safety under the spotlight

New evidence showing wide variation in complication rates across Australian hospitals has called for a collective lift in safety performance and informing patients about the best and worst performing hospitals so they can make decisions about where they are treated.


The Grattan Institute report – All complications should count: Using our data to make hospitals saferfound one in every nine patients who go into hospital in Australia suffers a complication, with the chances of something going wrong rising to a one in four risk if the patient stays overnight. Complication rates vary considerably from hospital to hospital, with the report concluding there is significant scope to boost safety across the board and that 250,000 more patients would leave hospital each year free of complications if improvements can match the best 10% of Australian hospitals.

Complications are wide-ranging and involve everything from falls to surgical errors or a patient receiving the wrong drug. Hospital safety statistics are currently collected but remain hidden from patients, doctors and hospitals.

The report claims removing “the veil of secrecy” over data would enable greater transparency and highlight the gaps so poorer performing hospitals could learn from the best. Its recommendations include all Australian hospitals publishing reports on excess complications by speciality and institution, and enabling hospitals and clinicians to interrogate state hospital data. ANMF Acting Assistant Federal Secretary Annie Butler said the report underscored a timely opportunity for a system-wide response to reducing patient harm yet warned creating a blame culture could inadvertently shift the focus away from underlying issues.

She said the current quality and consistency of data collection and analysis needed improving before information was widely circulated for comparison.

“The importance of collecting data that presents a comprehensive picture of hospital safety performance is unquestionable but going down the path of exposing where complications occur could trigger a destabilising blame game,” Ms Butler said. “This report marks an opportunity for an organisation to review its systems and to ensure the health professionals it employs are appropriately supported to deliver safe and quality care.”

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