The need for specialised forms of clinical audit was highlighted by the report of the Confidential Enquiry into Perioperative Deaths (CEPOD). Necropsy rates in a Northern Ireland teaching hospital were studied with particular reference to perioperative deaths. To provide an overall context for these observations, the pattern of the necropsy services in Northern Ireland as a whole was also determined. For 600 consecutive deaths in a major teaching hospital, the overall necropsy rate was 180 (30%). In the 74 perioperative deaths in this group (as defined by the CEPOD) the necropsy rate was 26 (35%), compared with 16 out of 72 (22%) for other surgical deaths and 89 out of 386 (23%) for medical cases. More coroners' necropsies were carried out in the perioperative group. These figures are within the range of the CEPOD experience. In 1987, in the whole of Northern Ireland, there were 8859 hospital deaths, 520 (5.9%) hospital necropsies, and 516 (5.8%) coroners' necropsies, giving an overall necropsy rate of 11.7%. Outside the two major Belfast teaching hospitals, however, there were 6799 hospital deaths, 76.6% of all hospital deaths for Northern Ireland. In this group there were 180 (2.6%) hospital necropsies and 383 (5.6%) coroners' cases, the overall necropsy rate being only 8.2%. These wide variations reflect the fact that the number of pathologists in post in the peripheral areas of the province falls substantially short of levels recommended by the Royal College of Pathologists. If clinical audit along CEPOD lines is to be effective nationally, more emphasis should be placed on the value of necropsy and local deficiencies in provision will have to be identified and remedied. It is suggested that this could be achieved by combining audit provisions with budgetary incentives.
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