Published on 5 Apr 2013 Sections , ,

Parents’ fears over ‘rush’ to reopen heart surgery unit

With child heart surgery set to resume at Leeds General Infirmary after days of uncertainty, some parents remain deeply concerned about the evaluation of the facility.

A late-night summit between Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, NHS England and other partners made the decision to “work together” to reopen the unit early next week. All operations were halted last Thursday after NHS figures suggested that the unit had a death rate twice that of other centres.

A spokesman explained agencies will move over the weekend to provide “sufficient assurance” that the unit is safe to reopen. Critics say they are focusing too heavily on getting the unit reopened quickly.

We have three parents who buried their children due to heart operations all in the last 12 months, these facts speak for themselves
Michelle Elliott

Fragile Hearts is a group representing parents of children who have have died or suffered permanent medical harm as a result of heart surgery. In a statement today they called for clarification of what independent body will be evaluating the hospital.

“The issue of data was only one aspect of the suspension, with CQC investigation and whistle blower statements also being key factors.

“Until full independent analysis of Leeds children’s heart surgery is carried out, including the 40 per cent of cases that sit un-analysed within miscellaneous, we cannot feel confident that further children’s lives will not be put at threat.”

The group questioned whether consideration is being given to parents who have lost a child and are grieving, adding: “We feel this is wholly wrong and we pray further lives are not lost as a result”.

Michelle Elliott from South Yorkshire has appealed for a more calm debate around potential problems at the infirmary, her own daughter has suffered from heart problems from birth and she says there are parents with legitimate concerns over the service there.

“In Fragile Hearts we have three parents who buried their children due to heart operations all in the last 12 months, these facts speak for themselves,” she stated.

“I would prefer if NHS England was left alone to do a full review, which they said will take three weeks instead of being bullied by MPs into re-opening. They should show respect for families whose babies have died.”

Data accuracy queried

Medical bodies, doctors and experts have questioned the accuracy of the NHS data, which they say was unverified and not fit to base a decision to close the unit on.

Greg Mulholland, Liberal Democrat MP for Leeds North West told Channel 4 News today that rushing to suspend the unit has put children “at greater risk”. He has now called for an investigation from the secretary of state.

Dr John Gibbs, chairman of the steering committee for the Central Cardiology Audit Database, which supplied the data, said he was “furious” the figures were leaked as they had not undergone the “usual rigorous checking process”.

He today claimed the leaking of the coronary figures went against national guidelines for statistics and was not due process, adding that the steering committee had the figures for less than 24 hours before they were released.

However, Sir Bruce Keogh, the medical director of NHS England, says the figures were among a “constellation of reasons” the decision was made.

Sharon Cheng, of the Save Our Surgery group, who ran a campaign to save children’s heart surgery at Leeds General Infirmary, has welcomed the announcement that children’s cardiac surgery will resume.

“The last week’s investigations and discussions have indicated that standards at the unit are safe – we now wait for the final independent assurance so that we can move ahead.

Professor Sir Roger Boyle, director of the Nicor, which oversees cardiovascular mortality data across the NHS told Radio 4’s Today programme: “We now need an investigation so we can get to the bottom of this decision, why it was taken, and we then need to understand that.”

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