‘Winter affected death rate’, say health bosses who have seen unusually high mortality rates in Hartlepool and Stockton

The University Hospital of Hartlepool
The University Hospital of Hartlepool

HEALTH chiefs have put a higher than expected death rate at a hospital trust down to an increased number of admissions during last year’s harsh winter.

North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust is one of three in the region that are among 16 nationally showing unusually high mortality rates.

It comes after a report from health statistics firm Dr Foster found that in 2012-13 for every 100 people potentially expected not to survive, there were 112.1 deaths in hospital or within 30 days of discharge, 109.7 deaths in hospital for conditions which cause most deaths and 112.3 deaths in hospital for all conditions.

The number of deaths at the Hartlepool site was below the 100-person baseline ratio, at 99.7, with the North Tees hospital in Stockton having 116 per 100.

But trust bosses say the difference between sites is due to factors including the accident and emergency unit moving to North Tees in 2011, and complex surgery and trauma being at the Stockton hospital.

South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs James Cook University Hospital, where many Hartlepool and East Durham patients are treated, also showed high mortality rates.

According to the report, the ratio was 104.4 deaths in hospital or within 30 days of discharge, 115.4 deaths in hospital for conditions which cause most deaths and 115.8 deaths in hospital for all conditions.

But bosses at NHS organisations across the region say indicators do not show that any deaths were caused or contributed to by poor care, but that they may in fact point to how harsh the North-East winter was last year.

Health chiefs say all six regional trusts are within the expected range of mortality using the Department of Health’s agreed measure for the NHS, the summary hospital-level mortality indicator.

North Tees and Hartlepool trust medical director David Emerton said: “In the North of England last winter a lot of frail elderly patients were admitted to hospital with chest infections and other respiratory conditions.

“In December and January more of these patients died in hospital than previous years. This did contribute to higher mortality rates.”

He added that the trust has seen an recent improvement, rates and patient notes are constantly monitored and the trust works closely with senior medics to review all hospital deaths, with the board kept fully informed.

A South Tees trust spokeswoman blamed the results on the number of elderly patients succumbing to respiratory illnesses last winter, a decrease in the coding of specialist palliative care and a change in rules recording other illnesses.

A joint statement from the affected regional trusts said: “Hospitals across the North East of England have a very strong track record of providing some of the highest quality of care in the entire NHS and it is important that the public are reassured that this remains the case.”

North East Quality Observatory System specialist advisor Tony Roberts said interpreting the indicators is very complex.

Nationally, 237,100 patients died in hospital in 2012/13, 4,400 more than in 2011/12 but 5,300 fewer than 2010/11.