Patients are still dying unnecessarily after routine operations, according to the third Report of the National Confidential Enquiry into Perioperative Deaths.
The report is compiled from information supplied voluntarily about deaths of patients in the 30 days after an operation.
Although five surgeons refused to cooperate, information was supplied by 1381 of their colleagues on 2739 perioperative deaths during 1991-92. In about a third of cases, no information was available because either it had not been recorded or it had been lost.
The researchers found that many patients are dying from deep vein thrombosis and clots in the lung. Drugs supposedly to counteract this problem were not always given, and researchers could not discover to what extent other simple preventative measures like keeping legs raised, or wearing elastic stockings were taken.
Other common causes of death were where patients were inadequately prepared and surgery was overhasty; when too much fluid was given, causing heart attack (one 84 year old woman with heart disease died after being given 7.5 litres of fluid in the 24 hours following a hip replacement); and when surgeons were unfamiliar with the operation.
The report calls for urgent further research and for more post mortem examinations at least 49 per cent of which reveal new and significant findings, it says.