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Background

There is increasing evidence of variable standards of care for patients undergoing emergency general surgery in the National Health Service (NHS). The aim of this study was to quantify and explore variability in mortality amongst high-risk emergency general surgery admissions to English NHS hospital Trusts.

Methods

The Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) database was used to identify high-risk emergency general surgery diagnoses (greater than 5 per cent national 30-day mortality rate). Adults admitted to English NHS Trusts with these diagnoses between 2000 and 2009 were included in the study. Thirty-day in-hospital mortality was adjusted for patient and hospital factors. Trusts were grouped into high- and low-mortality outliers, and resource availability was compared between high- and low-mortality outlier institutions.

Results

Some 367 796 patients admitted to 145 hospital Trusts were included in the study; the 30-day mortality rate was 15·6 per cent (institutional range 9·2–18·2 per cent). Fourteen and 24 hospital Trusts were identified as high- and low-mortality outlier institutions respectively. Intensive care and high-dependency bed resources, as well as greater institutional use of computed tomography (CT), were independent predictors of reduced mortality (P < 0·001). Low-mortality outlying Trusts had significantly more intensive care beds per 1000 hospital beds (20·8 versus 14·0; P = 0·017) and made significantly greater use of CT (24·6 versus 17·2 scans per bed per year; P < 0·001) and ultrasonography (42·5 versus 30·2 scans per bed per year; P < 0·001).

Conclusion

There is significant variability in mortality risk between hospital Trusts treating high-risk emergency general surgery patients. Equitable access to essential hospital resources may reduce variability in outcomes.