Doctors who decide not to disclose details of their performance will be “named and shamed” by the Government, it has emerged.
Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, said there was “no valid reason” why consultants should not make their figures available.
It is understood Mr Hunt has asked officials to draw up plans to publish the death rates of NHS doctors as early as next month, and subject to legal requirements, he wants every consultant to be “obliged” to disclose the details.
Those who refuse will be named.
Mr Hunt said: “Subject to proper risk adjustment of the data there can be no valid reason why it should not be published – and the majority of consultants strongly support the case for doing so.
“In an era of public concern over patient safety issues at Mid Staffordshire Hospital, this will be a major step forward in restoring public confidence.”
The Health Secretary made the comments after it was reported doctors would be given the opportunity to opt out of the new league tables which assess their performance.
The tables – central to Government plans for a more transparent NHS – are aimed at showing patients how well consultant-led surgical teams in hospitals across England are performing against each other.
The move, announced under the NHS Mandate, is intended to “shine a light on variation and unacceptable practice’’.
But it emerged that doctors could be able to refuse to disclose the details under data protection laws – an option which medical officials say is based on legal advice.
A Royal College of Surgeons’ spokesman confirmed doctors would need to consent to the figures being published later this year, but said early feedback suggested few would opt out.
The spokesman said: “We don’t have firm figures yet but the early indications are that the numbers consenting to this are very high.
“There is no attempt to hide poor performance.”
The spokesman added: “All consultant surgeons performing procedures which are the subject of the national clinical audits in England have been asked to consent to having their data published and we are encouraging them to do so.
“The surgical specialty associations are currently working with HQIP (Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership) to gain consent from their members for publication this summer.
“On the basis of legal advice taken by the NHS and HQIP, it has been indicated that consent has to be sought, and data for non-consenting surgeons cannot be published without breaching the Data Protection Act.
“Later this year, it is expected that publication of surgeon-level data will be mandated by NHS England. We see this as a watershed moment for the profession and strongly urge surgeons to take part in this important initiative.”
An NHS England spokesman said there was a lot of support for the tables among consultants, with around 96 per cent of respondents opting in to the publication. “We urge all consultants to think very carefully about the effect on their patients and their colleagues if they choose to opt out on the basis of legislation designed to protect personal data,” the spokesman said.
“The publication of consultant-level data for 10 surgical specialties heralds a new level of openness, but there is some way to go before the NHS is as transparent as it should be.”
A Department of Health spokesman said: “Patients should be able to see how individual senior doctors are performing. That principle has been agreed for many years and has been successfully implemented in cardiac surgery.”
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the General Medical Council, said: “We expect doctors to put their patients first. We’re living in an increasingly transparent age where doctors are expected to be open about their practice.
“We would encourage all doctors to be as open and public as possible with information about the care they provide.
“All doctors are now subject to annual appraisals. We would expect surgeons who do not join a national scheme such as this to be prepared to discuss their decision as part of that process.”
Professor Norman Williams, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Our college is about advancing standards; we believe in openness and we wish to see surgeons’ data out there in the public domain.
“But I have to say that it’s very important that it’s reliable and robust data.”