Leeds General Infirmary – Heart Surgery Scandal

Posted By Moosa Duke - 16th April 2013

In July 2012 the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts (JCPCT) made a decision that the children’s heart surgery units at Leeds General Hospital, Glenfield Hospital in Leicester and Royal Brompton Hospital in London would close.  A proposal was made that treatment would instead be concentrated at seven specialist hospitals. These included:

–         Great Ormond Street, London

–         Evelina Children’s Hospital, London

–         Newcastle Freeman Hospital

–         Birmingham Children’s Hospital

–         Alder Hey, Liverpool

–         The Royal Children’s Hospital, Liverpool and

–         Southampton General

A judicial review was brought at the High Court in London in February 2013 by the Save our Surgery group (SOS) over the plan to stop the operations.

The medical profession argued that child heart surgery is one of the most complex procedures undertaken by the NHS with 3,600 operations carried out each year. They felt that in order to provide a high quality and safe service, the operations must be carried out at specialist sites.

The High Court judge ruled that a decision-making process to close the units was “legally flawed”.

Twenty four hours after the court’s decision, children’s heart surgery unit at Leeds General Infirmary was suspended.

According to the Medical Director of NHS England, Sir Bruce Keogh, the decision to stop children’s heart surgery at Leeds General Hospital was based on data which indicated high mortality rates.

Sir Bruce said that he had asked for a “pause in surgery” as he had been shown worrying figures by the National Institute of Cardiovascular Outcomes Research (NICOR) (the figures showed child heart surgery mortality to be twice the average). Other factors influencing the decision, included concerns that children were “suffering more brain damage than might be expected”.

At the time Sir Bruce had travelled to the hospital to voice his concerns regarding death rates and the number and expertise of surgeons. During his visit it has been reported that the unit was being staffed by two locum consultants. One of the senior surgeons in the unit had voluntarily withdrawn from operating due to questions arising over his ability to do so and the other surgeon was on holiday. He had also been separately contacted by two senior surgeons from other units over their concerns about staffing at the hospital.

Following the suspension of the operations, the hospital explained that the figures of high mortality were “simply wrong” and “incomplete”. It was found that there were gaps in the data that had been recorded. Sir Bruce accepted that he had “acted on inaccurate data”.

Children’s heart surgery at Leeds General Infirmary was set to resume on Wednesday “subject to independent validation of the clinical data”, starting with “lower- risk cases.  

Sir Bruce said that “the immediate safety issues have gone” but that he would be “keeping the unit under review”.