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National anaesthesia mortality reporting in Australia from 1985–2008

Department of Anaesthesia, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Nedlands, Western Australia, Australia

Summary

This article summarises the Australian national anaesthesia mortality data from 1985–2008, previously published in eight consecutive triennial reports and covering an estimated 50 million anaesthetics. The data were obtained using consistent definitions and methodology over a 24-year period. Anaesthesia-related mortality in Australia fell from about 1:36,000 anaesthetics in the 1985–1987 triennium to about 1:55,000 for the most recent reported 2006–2008 triennium. The percentage of the deaths considered anaesthesia-caused fell from about 50% of all anaesthesia-related deaths in the 1985–1987 triennium to about 15% of all anaesthesia-related deaths in the 2006–2008 triennium. The percentage of anaesthesia-related deaths considered non-preventable (no correctable anaesthetic factor identified) increased from about 4% in the 1991–1993 triennium to about 50% in the 2006–2008 triennium. There was also an increase in the proportion of deaths in which the patient’s medical condition was considered a significant factor in the death over this period. While the trends are encouraging, they nevertheless suggest that additional efforts are required to further reduce ‘preventable’ anaesthetic deaths, and that continuing research and development into safer agents, techniques and approaches are required to reduce the incidence of deaths currently considered ‘non-preventable’.

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