© Published by the BMJ Publishing Group Limited. Objective To determine the effect of surgeon specific outcome reporting in colorectal cancer surgery on risk averse clinical practice, "gaming" of clinical data, and 90 day postoperative mortality. Design National cohort study. Setting English National Health Service hospital trusts. Population 111 431 patients diagnosed as having colorectal cancer from 1 April 2011 to 31 March 2015 included in the National Bowel Cancer Audit. Intervention Public reporting of surgeon specific 90 day mortality in elective colorectal cancer surgery in England introduced in June 2013. Main outcome measures Proportion of patients with colorectal cancer who had an elective major resection, predicted 90 day mortality based on characteristics of patients and tumours, and observed 90 day mortality adjusted for differences in characteristics of patients and tumours, comparing patients who had surgery between April 2011 and June 2013 and between July 2013 and March 2015. Results The proportion of patients with colorectal cancer undergoing major resection did not change after the introduction of surgeon specific public outcome reporting (39 792/62 854 (63.3%) before versus 30 706/48 577 (63.2%) after; P=0.8). The proportion of these major resections categorised as elective or scheduled also did not change (33 638/39 792 (84.5%) before versus 25 905/30 706 (84.4%) after; P=0.5). The predicted 90 day mortality remained the same (2.7% v 2.7%; P=0.3), but the observed 90 day mortality fell (952/33 638 (2.8%) v 552/25 905 (2.1%)). Change point analysis showed that this reduction was over and above the existing downward trend in mortality before the introduction of public outcome reporting (P=0.03). Conclusions This study did not find evidence that the introduction of public reporting of surgeon specific 90 day postoperative mortality in elective colorectal cancer surgery has led to risk averse clinical practice behaviour or "gaming" of data. However, its introduction coincided with a significant reduction in 90 day mortality.