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BACKGROUND: Complication management appears to be of vital importance to differences in survival following surgery between surgical units. Failure-to-rescue (FTR) rates have not yet distinguished surgical from general medical complications. The aim of this study was to assess whether variability exists in FTR rates after reoperation for serious surgical complications following colorectal cancer resections in England. METHODS: The Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) database was used to identify patients undergoing primary resection for colorectal cancer between 2000 and 2008 in English National Health Service (NHS) trusts. Units were ranked into quintiles according to overall risk-adjusted mortality. Highest and lowest mortality quintiles were compared with respect to reoperation rates and FTR-surgical (FTR-S) rates. FTR-S was defined as the proportion of patients with an unplanned reoperation who died within the same admission. RESULTS: Some 144 542 patients undergoing resection for colorectal cancer in 150 English NHS trusts were included. On ranking according to risk-adjusted mortality, rates varied significantly between lowest and highest mortality quintiles (5·4 and 9·3 per cent respectively; P = 0·029). Lowest and highest mortality quintiles had equivalent adjusted reoperation rates (both 4·8 per cent; P = 0·211). FTR-S rates were significantly higher at units within the worst mortality quintile (16·8 versus 11·1 per cent; P = 0·002). CONCLUSION: FTR-S rates differed significantly between English colorectal units, highlighting variability in ability to prevent death in this high-risk group. This variability may represent differences in serious surgical complication management. FTR-S represents a readily collectable marker of surgical complication management that is likely to be applicable to other surgical specialties.

Original publication




Journal article


Br J Surg

Publication Date





1775 - 1783


Adolescent, Adult, Aged, Colorectal Neoplasms, England, Female, Humans, Male, Middle Aged, Postoperative Care, Postoperative Complications, Quality of Health Care, Reoperation, Risk Assessment, Time Factors, Young Adult