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OBJECTIVE: To investigate the association between alerts from a national hospital mortality surveillance system and subsequent trends in relative risk of mortality. BACKGROUND: There is increasing interest in performance monitoring in the NHS. Since 2007, Imperial College London has generated monthly mortality alerts, based on statistical process control charts and using routinely collected hospital administrative data, for all English acute NHS hospital trusts. The impact of this system has not yet been studied. METHODS: We investigated alerts sent to Acute National Health Service hospital trusts in England in 2011-2013. We examined risk-adjusted mortality (relative risk) for all monitored diagnosis and procedure groups at a hospital trust level for 12 months prior to an alert and 23 months post alert. We used an interrupted time series design with a 9-month lag to estimate a trend prior to a mortality alert and the change in trend after, using generalised estimating equations. RESULTS: On average there was a 5% monthly increase in relative risk of mortality during the 12 months prior to an alert (95% CI 4% to 5%). Mortality risk fell, on average by 61% (95% CI 56% to 65%), during the 9-month period immediately following an alert, then levelled to a slow decline, reaching on average the level of expected mortality within 18 months of the alert. CONCLUSIONS: Our results suggest an association between an alert notification and a reduction in the risk of mortality, although with less lag time than expected. It is difficult to determine any causal association. A proportion of alerts may be triggered by random variation alone and subsequent falls could simply reflect regression to the mean. Findings could also indicate that some hospitals are monitoring their own mortality statistics or other performance information, taking action prior to alert notification.

Original publication




Journal article


BMJ Qual Saf

Publication Date





965 - 973


health services research, healthcare quality improvement, statistical process control, Cause of Death, Cohort Studies, England, Hospital Mortality, Hospitalization, Humans, Interrupted Time Series Analysis, London, Mortality, Quality Improvement, Retrospective Studies, Risk Assessment