Campaign group calls for investigation into suspension of operations at children’s heart unit

A rally in Millennium Square and march through Leeds City Centre in support of the Leeds General Infirmary Children's Heart Unit.
A rally in Millennium Square and march through Leeds City Centre in support of the Leeds General Infirmary Children's Heart Unit.

A campaign group is calling on the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, to launch an independent investigation into the suspension of operations at the children’s heart unit.

Save Our Surgery, that won a landmark High Court rulling to quash a decision to end children’s heart surgery at Leeds General Infirmary has asked for the investigation after operations were cancelled almost two weeks ago after NHS figures suggested the unit had a death rate double that of other centres.

Surgery will restart today, but SOS has major concerns with the decision to suspend surgery, the process followed by NHS England medical director Sir Bruce Keogh and the timing of the move.

SOS campaigner Sharon Cheng said: “Given that the suspension potentially put patients at risk, has caused huge inconvenience and added stress to the families of children who have had to be treated elsewhere, and created unnecessary worries and fears amongst previous patients’ families, questions must be asked as to why operations were suspended in the first place.

“We fear it’s no coincidence that the action was taken on the day following the High Court verdict quashing the decision that Leeds should stop surgery, as part of the Safe and Sustainable review.”

The action made clear what campaigners have said throughout the review into children’s heart surgery units: that NHS England wanted Leeds closed as that was the only way they could make the Unit at Newcastle sustainable.

Sharon added: “In so doing, they used a number of what have proved to be completely unwarranted excuses. Allegations made about staffing have been completely unfounded, as has now been acknowledged by NHS England; the number of complaints at Leeds amounts to one per two thousand patient contacts and none has been found by the CQC to be material; and so-called ‘whistle-blowers’ have proved to be people with a vested interest in Safe and Sustainable and therefore in seeing Leeds closed.

“Most irresponsible of all was the use of mortality data that had not been verified. Its use by Professor Sir Roger Boyle was roundly attacked by the body compiling it and also by the British Congenital Cardiac Association. Following proper examination and verification by CCAD and Nicor, the pediatric cardiac surgery mortality figures have been certified as being within the normal accepted range.

“We believe that patients’ interests were not at the forefront of the decision to suspend children’s heart surgery in Leeds. Sir Bruce Keogh’s premature knee-jerk reaction, taken without following logical checks or processes, led to an horrendous 13 days for the parents and staff at this Unit.

“We hope those who made this decision will now be held to account. This whole exercise has been NHS politics at its worst. We call on the Secretary of State to launch an urgent inquiry into these events and what led them to happen. We also want him to make a decision following the Independent Reconfiguration Panel report which will genuinely put the interests of patients first. In our view, this means keeping both the Leeds and the Newcastle Units open.”