More patients are dying than expected at Huddersfield and Calderdale hospitals.

But hospital chiefs have assured the public they are confident there is not a high level of avoidable deaths at the infirmary or Calderdale Royal.

Figures for mortality rates – the amount of deaths – show Calderdale and Huddersfield Foundation Trust ranked as 118th out of 141 hospital trusts in England.

Earlier this year the Trust was as low as 129th.

The rates are a ratio between the actual number of patients who die following hospitalisation at the Trust and the number that would be expected to die, based on an England average.

Speaking at Kirklees Council’s health scrutiny panel, David Birkenhead, medical director for the Trust, admitted it was “not a comfortable position” for the hospitals.

He said doctors were seeing more patients, more of whom had complicated and severe health issues.

It is thought the Trust’s rate could also be affected by the amount of cancer care it delivers and the high proportion of elderly patients in the region.

But Dr Birkenhead said clinicians needed to improve recognition of when already ill patients were deteriorating earlier than expected and put in place rapid action.

“We’re trying to understand why patients might be dying,” he told the scrutiny panel.

“We’re not very good at recognising the complexity of underlying issues.

“There’s some real challenges in terms of how we take things forward.

Calderdale Royal Hospital
Calderdale Royal Hospital
 

“But it’s clear we shouldn’t use the (higher than average mortality rate) as a proxy that we’ve got more avoidable deaths than other hospitals.”

Dr Birkenhead said the Trust needed more consultant doctors if it was to improve and continue providing services at two hospitals and launch seven-day-a-week and out-of-hours services.

There is currently a heavy reliance on locum consultants.

“We have eight A&E consultants to deliver care on two sites when we probably need more than 20,” he admitted.

“We had a situation recently when a consultant paediatrician had two patients, one at HRI and one at CRH who needed his attention.

“He had to choose which one was the most serious.”

The hospital trust has launched a Care of the Acutely Ill programme to tackle the mortality figures.

Actions include a focus on frail patients, improved recognition of deteriorating patients, reduced transfers between hospitals and wards, and better handovers between clinicians.