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Monitoring death rates 'a waste of practices' time'

GPs would be wasting time and money trying to monitor death rates in their practice, new research has found.

The study, carried out over a 15-year period at a single practice, found routine information supplied by coroners, hospitals and other agencies arrived late, incomplete or was never provided.

The underlying cause of death was reported to the north London practice in only one-third of cases.

Some 70 per cent of requests for coroners' reports to enable the GPs to complete a practice register of deaths were ignored.

The study concluded the 'serious problems with the timeliness, accuracy and completeness of information' that can be collected by practices meant meaningful comparisons could not be made between their records.

Monitoring practice's death rates is one of the key recommendations of the Shipman Inquiry. 'Monitoring deaths in general practice is currently too complex a task to be undertaken by practices as part of their service responsibilities,' the study published in Quality and Safety in Health Care said.

It also argued practices would have to be given extra resources to enable them to compile a similar register of deaths.

Dr John Grenville, Derby-shire LMC secretary and a GP who has given evidence at the Shipman Inquiry, said the study showed only limited information could be gleaned from statistics.

'It's a very helpful study as it's about monitoring death rates from the practice point of view,' he said.

'It should encourage GPs to look more carefully at mortality statistics and at the care of bereaved patients ­ but not for looking for another Shipman,' he added.

From 1985 to 2000, 578 patients died ­ 51 per cent of them female. The most common causes were cardiovascular disease (37 per cent); stroke and heart disease (27.7 per cent) and neoplasms (24 per cent).

Six patients were murdered, nine involved in traffic accidents, three in drug overdoses and three committed suicide.

No deaths occurred in the surgery itself and a GP had been present at the time of death or within 30 minutes in only four cases.

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