A hospital's acting chief executive has "stepped aside" while an investigation is carried out into death rates following the discovery of an "unusually high number" of cases due to septicaemia, it has emerged.
Bolton NHS Foundation Trust's acting chief executive, Dr Jackie Bene, has stepped aside after an unusually high number of patients had been "coded" as having had septicaemia in a year.
Septicaemia, a severe infection that enters the blood stream, is coded, or tagged, in a different way to other illnesses and infections, which means deaths caused by septicaemia do not affect hospital mortality figures.
In the wake of the findings, NHS medical director Professor Sir Bruce Keogh called on all hospitals to "behave openly and honestly about their performance" and said they would be "monitoring the situation".
According to a report in The Bolton News, the Trust recorded 800 cases of septicaemia between March 2011 and April 2012 - a similar sized trust would expect to have just 200. Dr Bene, as former medical director, was in charge of recording the information.
The independent watchdog which is auditing the data is understood to be investigating 200 cases, The Bolton News reported. Its interim findings for 50 of the cases show "cause for concern".
Dr Wirin Bhatiani, chairman of the Bolton Clinical Commissioning Group (BCCG) said in a statement: "In October, we became aware of an unusually high number of patient episodes at Bolton NHS Foundation Trust that were coded as being due to septicaemia - a severe infection that enters the blood stream.
"As a result, we spoke to the medical director at the trust, and agreed to look into this further by commissioning a company - Dr Foster, a specialist in this area - to carry out an independent audit to look at these cases.
"Although the final report from this audit is not due to be given to us until March 6, we have received some interim findings that indicate some cause for concern.
"While we are keen to wait for the final report, we are sufficiently concerned by the interim findings to commence further investigations, and to inform the chair of the trust."