HEALTH chiefs in Bolton have welcomed the debate on how hospital death rates should be measured.

Academics leading the review into hospital death data have criticised current methods used by health information experts Dr Foster Intelligence.

Hospital Standardised Mortality Ratios (HSMRs) have been published by Dr Foster Intelligence since 2001 and were credited with helping uncover excessive death rates at hospitals such as Mid-Staffordshire.

The same measure led to an independent investigation into the coding of sepsis cases at the Royal Bolton Hospital after Dr Foster found “significant discrepancies” in data.

Even though the hospital was cleared, the report raised questions about the way sepsis — which loosely means an infection — is understood by clinicians, coders and analysts.

Now Professor Nick Black, whose review is due to report to NHS medical Sir Bruce Keogh at the end of this year, has warned that current measures can give a misleading picture of a hospital's performance.

Prof Black said: “I don't think there's any value in the publication of HMSR and I would go further and say it is a distraction, because it creates the risk of it giving a misleading idea of the quality of care.”

Heather Edwards, head of communications at the Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The current debate on mortality figures is very interesting and one that we’re watching closely.

“Measuring mortality and understanding the implications of different ways of doing this is highly complex and it is important that members of the public feel they can trust the information they’re given.”

Roger Taylor, research director of Doctor Foster Intelligence, defended the use of the statistic.

Mr Taylor said: “We can point to the fact that they helped to identify issues at Mid-Staffordshire Hospital and Basildon Hospital.

“We can point to the fact that a number of hospitals use them.”