Cardiac surgery incident register to be less transparent

The Ministry of Health is unable to say what the public will be able to glean from information to be stored on a new national register of cardiac surgery incidents.

In Britain from next week the public will be able to access raw data surgeon by surgeon, including survival rates, but that level of transparency is not planned in New Zealand.

Ministry of Health cardiovascular disease and diabetes national programme manager Karen Evison said a register with details of cardiac operations was under design. At present cardiac surgeons were not able to compare their performance with those of colleagues, unless a formal audit was carried out.

''There's just no system that exists currently that enables them to find that information out. There's just no national way of collating [or] holding that information,'' Mrs Evison said.

The register's governance group would decide what reports could be drawn from it, and how these could be used.

''I don't at this point see it as being a league table like the health targets, for example.''

Access to the register would be tightly controlled to comply with privacy codes, she said.

Asked why New Zealand appeared to lag behind Britain, Mrs Evison said New Zealand was on the same track, and the model for the new register was taken from an English provider.

Private cardiac surgeons would be asked to contribute their surgical outcomes to the database, but they could not be compelled, Mrs Evison said.

The register should be operating by the end of this year, and decisions would be made on what reports would be generated from it. Dunedin cardiac surgeon Richard Bunton said public access to information needed to be handled carefully or it could be misleading.

''One of the main issues is how to present the data in a meaningful fashion.

''For example, if you do 100 complex operations and someone else does 100 simple operations then the surgeon doing the simpler cases will have a lower mortality - which might appear to be good - but in actual fact might be worse,'' he said in an email.

- eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

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