Belford Hospital in Fort William has recorded the highest “crude” death rate of any hospital in Scotland, NHS figures revealed yesterday.
Mortality data published yesterday found that of 426 patients treated at the hospital in the last three months of 2018, 19 died within 30 days of admission.
When the number of deaths was compared with the number of patients, it resulted in a “crude mortality ratio” of 4.46%, the highest of any hospital.
Highlands and Islands Tory MSP Donald Cameron said the rate was “deeply worrying” and has written to NHS Highland seeking an explanation.
But experts last night said the relatively high rate was down to the fact that Belford is the only hospital in Lochaber and treated a greater proportion of patients needing end-of-life care than elsewhere.
Even though Belford’s crude death rate was the highest in Scotland it had also fallen from the previous quarter, between July and September last year.
Back then, 29 out of 463 patients died within 30-days of admission, making a 6.26% ratio. Of the last nine quarters Belford had the highest rate in seven.
But when the crude figures were adjusted to take into account a patient’s risk of death, Belford recorded a “standardised mortality ratio” of 0.93%, which suggested there were marginally fewer deaths than predicted.
Mr Cameron said: “Local residents will naturally be very concerned that the crude mortality rates seem high at the Belford compared to other hospitals in Scotland.
“I share that concern and have written to the Chief Executive of NHS Highland asking for an explanation so we can provide reassurance to the public.
“Sometimes raw figures such as these do not take into account all the relevant factors, so it’s important we get the full picture.”
Michael Foxley, a former GP in the area who also served on NHS Highland board, said he was unsurprised by Belford’s mortality figures, explaining that the hospital tended to treat people who were very seriously ill or dying.
Across Scotland as a whole, standardised death rates fell by 14% in the last four years, meeting the Scottish Government target for a 10% cut.
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman credited the drop to the Scottish Patient Safety Programme (SPSP) which aims to improve the safety and reliability of health and social care.
An NHS Highland spokesman said the health board maintained continuous surveillance over Hospital Standardised Mortality Ratios (HSMR) and patient deaths in all of its acute hospitals.
“None of our hospitals are flagging as an outlier for HSMR within Scotland,” he said.
“The HSMR crude rate gives the total number of deaths including those with advanced cancer and similar illnesses.
“Belford hospital has no hospice or community hospital nearby to provide end of life care so a proportionally greater number of such cases will be admitted relative to other hospitals. “