Surgeons' death rates published in NHS league tables

Surgical instruments sit on a table in an operating theater at the Cardiology Hospital in Lille, northern France, on April 2, 2013 (AFP Photo/Philippe Huguen) (AFP/File)

London (AFP) - Performance data for around 5,000 surgeons in England will be released Wednesday, revealing how many patients have died in their care.

The data will be published online to allow patients to compare different hospitals and medical staff, a move health authorities hope will raise standards.

But many surgeons are concerned the steps will lead to consultants avoiding high-risk cases, with around 2,500 refusing to provide the information.

NHS bosses warned at the weekend that surgeons who fail to publish their death rates could face penalties as the initiative, first launched last year, is extended to cover more areas.

NHS England, which is publishing the league tables on a new web platform at , said the mortality rates for "almost all surgeons" are "within the expected range".

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said the focus on data will make the NHS more transparent and improve safety in hospitals.

In a speech later Wednesday he is expected to say: "Healthcare globally has been slow to develop the kind of safety culture based on openness and transparency that has become normal in the airline, oil and nuclear industries.

"The NHS is now blazing a trail across the world as the first major health economy to adopt this kind of culture."

NHS England's medical director Bruce Keogh said the publication of data would help "drive up standards".

"The results demonstrate that surgery in this country is as good as anywhere in the western world and, in some specialities, it is better," he said.

But some surgeons have criticised the measures and said they are not in patients' best interests.

John MacFie, president of the Federation of Surgical Speciality Associations, which represents surgeons, said: "There is now good anecdotal evidence that shows publishing this data has encouraged risk-averse behaviour, which is not in the interest of patients.

"I believe that the data should only be published after any concerns in a surgeon's performance have been investigated."