UK's National Health Service indicted for high death rates

A report into 14 hospitals on the UK's National Health Service (NHS) programme with high death rates has criticised low staffing levels and inadequate numbers of nurses, among other inadequacies.

Scheduled operations were postponed and hospital waiting lists allowed to grow as the NHS struggled to cut costs in the last year, says the report.

Evidence considered by Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS England medical director, discloses that all bar one of the 14 hospital trusts, mostly in Wales, had a lower ratio of nurses to patients than the national average.

Managers balanced the books but have to try and save £404 million this year, said the Wales Audit Office.

At George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust last year, just 15.5 hours were spent by each qualified nurse per month directly benefiting patients, compared with the national average of 85.6 hours.

The picture at Tameside hospital was little better, with just 17.4 hours; and it was 25.5 hours at the Dudley Group of Hospitals.

Sir Bruce is expected to instruct all 14 trusts to undertake an urgent review of their staffing levels.

The clear link between staffing and mortality rates will mean that trusts around the country will also be expected to examine the numbers of nurses they employ, amid criticism of some hospitals for an over-reliance on healthcare assistants.

Another report into NHS functioning commissioned by the government says that dying patients are suffering a ''fundamental'' lack of care and being left in agony outside normal hours.

Accusing nurses of brutality and callousness, the review led by Baroness Julia Neuberger found that many patients have been left facing the desperate and ''terrifying prospect'' of spending their final hours thirsty, with nurses even shouting at families who tried to give their loved ones water.

The NHS's medical director will spell out the failings of all 14 trusts in England, which between them have been responsible for up to 13,000 ''excess deaths'' since 2005.

Sir Bruce will describe how each hospital let its patients down badly through poor care, medical errors and failures of management, and will show that the scandal of Stafford Hospital, where up to 1,200 patients died needlessly, was not a one-off.