A PROBE into the number of deaths at one of Scotland's newest hospitals has been launched following the release of official mortality figures.
Forth Valley Royal Hospital, in Larbert, has been told to investigate the death rate last spring and is expected to pull together an action plan to address any issues.
The move comes just months after an independent review into high death rates in Lanarkshire raised serious concerns about understaffing, quality of care and patient record-keeping.
Yesterday, Jason Leitch, clinical director of NHS Scotland, stressed the situation in Forth Valley was not a repeat of these problems.
Professor Leitch said: "I have spoken to the medical director (in Forth Valley) and I have absolute confidence in the plan of what they are doing. It is not NHS Lanarkshire."
Death rates in hospitals are monitored every quarter and where hospitals are found to be significantly out of line with the Scottish average procedures are in place to ensure action is taken.
On Tuesday this week new mortality rates were published which included revisions to the figures for April to June last year. These revisions increased the mortality rate for Forth Valley Royal to 1.03, compared to the Scottish average of 0.88.
Professor Leitch said, as it was "three standard deviations" away from the average, it automatically prompted contact from Healthcare Improvement Scotland seeking an investigation.
This is the fifth time death rates have sparked this kind of probe in Scotland since 2009.
A spokesman for Healthcare Improvement Scotland said: "In Tuesday's release of Hospital Standardised Mortality Ratios for Scotland, Forth Valley Royal Hospital was identified as having a mortality ratio higher than the Scottish average during one quarter in 2013.
"As a result, Healthcare Improvement Scotland has initiated a dialogue with NHS Forth Valley, in line with standard practice for considering mortality ratios that are higher than average.
"In doing so, NHS Forth Valley is being asked to provide a response to these data, describing how the data are being considered and interpreted locally (eg to understand the underlying causes) and, where necessary, acted upon.
"This is a standard procedure. Healthcare Improvement Scotland will then consider the response from NHS Forth Valley to decide if any further action is required."
The Forth Valley Royal Hospital cost £300 million, opened in 2011, and is described as one of the most modern and well equipped hospitals in Europe. Provisional figures for July to September 2013 suggest an improvement in its mortality rate and since 2006, mortality has fallen by 17.5% - better than the Scottish average.
In a statement health board NHS Forth Valley said: "NHS Forth Valley takes these figures seriously and has, in partnership with NHS Scotland, been analysing these in detail to seek any possible areas for improvement. This has included our own in- depth review of data and all other available national information. This work is ongoing and all appropriate actions will be taken on conclusion of this analysis."
Hospital mortality rates are calculated using a formula which tries to take account of factors which might increase the number of deaths, such as the age profile of patients and the mix of conditions they are suffering.
Experts say they are not a measure of safety or quality in isolation, but are intended to flag up areas where further attention is warranted.