A new study shows that incidences of death after surgery in European countries, especially the UK, are higher than previous estimates.

The study involved more than 46,000 patients in 498 hospitals across 28 European countries. All the patients underwent non-cardiac surgery and were over the age of 16. In-hospital death rates are used to assess the quality of healthcare provided by a hospital.

Researchers estimate that at least 4 percent of all patients admitted to the hospital for surgeries die after the operation. Death after surgery varies among European countries: from being 1.2 percent in Iceland to 21 percent in Latvia. In the UK, the death after surgery rate is 3.6 percent. A previous report on in-hospital death rates had estimated that 1 percent of patients in the UK die after a surgery.

Researchers found that about 73 percent of those who died after surgery were not provided with critical care at any stage of the surgery.

"The substantial variations in mortality between countries highlight the urgent need for national and international strategies to improve care for this group of patients," said Rupert Pearse from Queen Mary, University of London, and lead author of the study. The data for the study was collected over a seven-day period, from April 4 to April 11, 2011.

"In future studies, we need to learn more about the relevant issues and optimum processes to secure quality [assurance in surgery]. Targets could include the type of intensive care beds needed, volume, university versus community hospitals, and surgeons' qualifications," write René Vonlanthen and Pierre-Alain Clavien, both from the University Hospital Zurich, Switzerland, in a linked comment.

They added that knowing the cost of care after the surgery will be helpful in deciding treatments that are cost-effective and relevant for the patients' condition.

The study was published in The Lancet.