Stroke care in the south west: how do hospitals compare?

Last week, NHS South of England SHA cluster published detailed performance data on dementia and stroke care by the health service in the south west. It has set up a pilot website, Our Health, which allows fairly sophisticated graphical comparison of services on specific criteria (and has been backed by the prime minister), which may be expanded to other conditions and regions.

The south west contributed to the opening of medical performance data for the wrong reasons, when the failings of the children’s heart unit at Bristol Royal Infirmary in the early 1990s (highlighted by Dr Phil Hammond, the Private Eye columnist and comedian – currently on tour with a very funny show) and subsequent investigations led to all heart surgery units publishing mortality rates. So it’s good to see an NHS organisation taking the initiative in uncovering another aspect of the region’s data.

But if there’s a drawback to what NHS South has published, it’s a lack of interpretation, particularly in drawing conclusions on how services compare overall. So the map below combines some of the data published for the area’s hospitals that provide stroke care. It is pretty crude, simply taking the average of six data fields where a performance measure is published as a percentage and a higher number implies better care. (If the data was missing for that hospital, the average for the rest is used. No weighting has been applied.)

Map removed as Google Fusion Tables no longer works.

The pointers are green for the hospitals with the highest average figures, yellow for the middling ones and red for the lowest: click on a pointer to see the data used for that hospital. Dorset County Hospital, Weston Area Health and Great Western in Swindon have the lowest averages (in that order), while the highest come from Salisbury, Derriford in Plymouth and Taunton and Somerset.

It’s easy to see how NHS South would be wary of doing its own version of this (which would no doubt be much more sophisticated), as it would involve saying that some hospitals in its area provide below average stroke care – although that is just a mathematical fact. However, some kind of classification is surely the logical conclusion of publishing performance data. If the SHA cluster (which will next year be absorbed into the NHS Commissioning Board) doesn’t feel able to do this, would a patient group such as the Stroke Association be prepared to step in?