Newswise — A new study has revealed paying patients are 20 per cent less likely to die or develop major complications, such as reintervention or stroke, after cardiac surgery than NHS patients – findings researchers say cannot be explained by socioeconomic factors alone.

The study, led by academics at the University of Bristol, looked at the data of over 280,000 patients who underwent adult cardiac surgery over a ten-year period from 2009 to 2018 at 31 NHS cardiac units in England. 5,967of these were private payers and 274,242 were government funded.

Private payers are treated by the same clinical teams but can request their surgeon and when to have surgery. They also have access to ‘Cinderella services’ such as enhanced menus and single rooms.

Umberto Benedetto, Associate Professor in Cardiac Surgery in Bristol Medical School: Translational Health Sciences (THS) from the University of Bristol is an NHS cardiac surgeon and joint lead author of the research, published in The Lancet Regional Health - Europe. He said the study posed important questions about why there is a significant disparity in health outcomes between government funded patients and those accessing NHS healthcare through a private payer-scheme, even after socio-economic factors had been considered. 

“These are patients who are treated in the same hospitals, by the same clinical teams, and yet we have found stark differences in survival between those who pay and those who don’t,” said Prof Benedetto.

“It’s tempting to assume this is due to private payers having a more affluent and therefore better quality of life with fewer comorbidities. However, after analysing the data, we found evidence supporting the hypothesis that private patients receive a better care.”

Researchers used data from the National Adult Cardiac Surgery Audit (NACSA) registry. They looked at several outcomes: the primary being in-hospital mortality, but also incidence of in-hospital postoperative cerebrovascular accident (CVA), renal dialysis, sternal wound infection, and re-exploration.

To eliminate socioeconomic status as the sole or primary cause of difference in clinical outcomes between private and NHS payers, the researchers used information on socioeconomic status by linkage with the Iteration of the English Indices of Deprivation (IoD).

Dr Arnaldo Dimagli, Honorary Research fellow at the University of Bristol and joint lead author said:

“Our findings support the hypothesis that a complex interaction between socioeconomic and health system-related factors exists for patients undergoing cardiac surgery. This should stimulate further investigations in order to identify interventions which can tackle health inequalities. For example, it is possible that NHS payers have to wait longer to get their operation. This can expose them to the risk of deterioration before surgery which can affect their outcomes.”

The study was supported by NIHR Bristol Biomedical Research Centre (NIHR Bristol BRC).  


‘Disparity in clinical outcomes after cardiac surgery between private and public (NHS) payers in England’ by Umberto Benedetto et al in The Lancet Regional Health - Europe


Notes to editors


 For further information or to interview Dr Umberto Benedetto please contact Shona East [Tues to Fri], email [email protected], mobile: +44 (0)7971 067978 or Aliya Mughal, email [email protected] at the University of Bristol.

About Bristol Heart Institute
Bristol Heart Institute is a world-leading centre for translational cardiovascular research and the leading academic cardiac surgery centre in the UK.

We are specialist in preventing, predicting, detecting, reducing and treating cardiovascular disease, bringing together scientists and clinicians from across the University and the NHS in Bristol, and training the next generation of cardiovascular scientists and clinical academics.

We harness the expertise of Bristol's translational science community and benefit from close proximity to outstanding medical facilities, such as the £61M Bristol Heart Institute Clinical Facility. In this way, we make the journey from bench to bedside, from scientist to patient, in our fight against heart disease, still the UK's number one killer today.

About the National Institute for Health Research The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is the UK's largest funder of health and care research. The NIHR:

  • Funds, supports and delivers high quality research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care
  • Engages and involves patients, carers and the public in order to improve the reach, quality and impact of research
  • Attracts, trains and supports the best researchers to tackle the complex health and care challenges of the future
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  • Partners with other public funders, charities and industry to maximise the value of research to patients and the economy

The NIHR was established in 2006 to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research, and is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. In addition to its national role, the NIHR commissions applied health research for the direct and primary benefit of people in low- and middle-income countries, using UK aid from the UK government.

About NIHR Bristol BRC NIHR Bristol Biomedical Research Centre’s (NIHR Bristol BRC) innovative biomedical research takes science from the laboratory bench or computer and develops it into new drugs, treatments or health advice. Its world-leading scientists work on many aspects of health, from the role played by individual genes and proteins to analysing large collections of data on hundreds of thousands of people. Bristol BRC is unique among the NIHR’s 20 BRCs across England, thanks to its expertise in ground-breaking population health research.


Issued by the University of Bristol, UK

Journal Link: The Lancet Regional Health - Europe