Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Statistics Behind the Headlines

Are you 45% more likely to die in a UK hospital rather than a US hospital?

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 24 September 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f5775
  1. David Spiegelhalter, Winton professor for the public understanding of risk
  1. 1University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  1. d.spiegelhalter{at}

David Spiegelhalter is frustrated by the recent headlines that English patients are more likely to die in hospital than US citizens

On 11 September Channel 4 News carried lengthy and uncritical coverage of work by Brian Jarman comparing hospital mortality in seven Western countries between 2004 and 2012. The headline claims were that English “health service patients are 45% more likely to die in hospital than in the US,”1 which was the leading (and only named) country of the seven being compared.

This was followed by newspaper coverage including claims that “A patient in England was five times as likely to die of pneumonia and twice as likely to die of septicaemia compared to similar patients in the US.”2

The basis of these claims was questioned on Twitter and in online articles, and blogs, particularly as neither the data nor the methods were publicly available—it is perhaps notable that the BBC’s website did not cover the story at all. To his credit, Jarman responded with a torrent of robust tweets and provided links to files with some limited details of the methods and results. …

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