A new report reveals the latest information on death rates from surgery and anaesthesia in New Zealand.

The Perioperative Mortality Review Committee (POMRC) today released its third report to the Health Quality & Safety Commission.

The POMRC reviews deaths related to surgery and anaesthesia which occur within 30 days of an operation, and makes recommendations aimed at making surgery safer for patients. Its latest report covers deaths from 2007 to 2011 in five clinically important areas:

  • cholecystectomy (surgical removal of the gallbladder) – death rate of 0.98 percent for emergency admissions and 0.15 percent for elective admissions within 30 days of surgery
  • colorectal resection (surgical removal of part of the colon) – death rate of 8.46 percent for emergency admissions and 1.7 percent for elective admissions within 30 days of surgery (both figures for patients aged 45 or above)
  • general anaesthesia – death rate of 0.13 percent within one day of surgery
  • elective admissions for low-risk patients – death rate of 0.06 percent within 30 days of surgery
  • pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lung) - death rate of 0.06 percent for emergency admissions and 0.009 percent for elective patients who had surgery/anaesthesia and developed pulmonary embolism.

Within 30 days of surgery, there were 555 deaths from colorectal resection (for patients aged 45 and above), 118 deaths from cholecystectomy, and 249 deaths of low-risk patients having anaesthetic during elective surgery.

There were 276 deaths from pulmonary embolism within 30 days of surgery, and 136 deaths of people who had surgery/anaesthesia and developed pulmonary embolism.

Within a day of surgery, there were 1465 deaths from general anaesthesia. Heart disease was the most common underlying reason for dying from general anaesthesia, and the risks of dying significantly increased for patients who were aged over 65, in poor health, and admitted as emergency patients.

There have been no clinically significant changes in deaths related to surgery and anaesthesia over the past three years.

Dr Leona Wilson, chair of the POMRC, says collecting high-quality data on mortality rates can help measure the safety of health care and identify areas where improvements can be made.

“We want operations and anaesthesia to be as safe as possible for all New Zealanders,” she says.

The POMRC’s recommendations include ensuring all theatre staff are aware of each patient’s ASA score. Developed by the American Society of Anesthesiologists, ASA scores assess a patient’s physical status before surgery.

The committee also recommends that it keeps working with health care providers to develop ways to standardise mortality reporting, and that it continue exploring World Health Organization measures that aim to make it possible to more accurately compare mortality statistics between countries.

The full report can be downloaded below.

Questions & Answers for the Third Report are available here.

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