Background: Reports of high mortality after paediatric cardiac surgery at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, UK, led to the establishment of an independent public inquiry. A key question was whether or not the mortality statistics in Bristol were unusual compared with other specialist centres. To answer this question, we did a retrospective analysis of mortality in the UK using two datasets.
Methods: Data from the UK Cardiac Surgical Register (CSR; January, 1984, to March, 1996) and Hospital Episode Statistics (HES; April, 1991, to December, 1995) were obtained for all 12 major centres in which paediatric cardiac surgery is done in the UK. The main outcome measure was mortality within 30 days of a cardiac surgical procedure. We estimated excess deaths in Bristol using a random-effects model derived from the remaining 11 centres. Additionally, a sensitivity analysis was done and case-mix examined.
Findings: For children younger than 1 year, in open operations, the mortality rate in Bristol was around double that of the other centres during 1991-95: within the CSR, there were 19.0 excess deaths (95% interval 2-32) among 43 deaths; and in HES, there were 24.1 excess deaths (12-34) among 41 deaths recorded. There was no strong evidence for excess mortality in Bristol for closed operations or for open operations in children older than 1 year.
Interpretation: Our results suggest that Bristol was an outlier, and we do not believe that statistical variation, systematic bias in data collection, case-mix, or data quality can explain a divergence in performance of this size.