Smarter use of public service statistics can save lives as well as money. But anxious civil libertarians want to stop the state sharing our personal records. They must not succeedby Tim Kelsey / July 29, 2009 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2009 issue of Prospect Magazine
Brian Jarman, emeritus professor of general practice at Imperial College, is a kindly looking man. He is famous in medicine for designing the statistical model that was used to pay GPs (the Jarman Index); leading the campaign to keep Barts Hospital open; and, 15 years ago and perhaps most notably, devising a way of predicting how likely patients are to die in hospital. That analysis revealed that death rates in England, even when controlled for variables like a patient’s age or class, differed by up to 76 per cent.
Death rates are not universally accepted as the best way to measure a good hospital. But tragic events keep bringing the issue back onto the agenda. In 2001, the Kennedy inquiry into children’s heart surgery at the Bristol Royal Infirmary found that up to 35 babies may have died unnecessarily during the early 1990s. The inquiry called for more surveillance of hospital performance. This year just such an analysis uncovered another scandal at Stafford General Hospital, where receptionists rather than nurses were deciding which patients needed urgent treatment when they came to A&E. The healthcare regulator found that 400 lives may have been lost; deaths which smarter analysis of data might have prevented.