Children’s heart surgery at a Leeds trust has been found to be “safe” by a review into mortality rates, but question marks have been raised about staff compassion.
The children’s heart surgery unit at Leeds Teaching Hospital Trust was closed in March last year at the request of NHS England medical director Sir Bruce Keogh, after data showed unusually high death rates.
Sir Bruce’s intervention came shortly after a High Court ruling blocked national reconfiguration plans which would have closed the unit.
Heart surgery was cleared to resume 11 days later after the data submitted was found to be flawed.
NHS England today published the results of a two-part review of paediatric heart surgery at Leeds.
The mortality review found that services in the unit were “safe and are running well”. It confirmed that the trust was not outlier in terms of its mortality rates from surgery.
However, a family experience review, based on the views of 16 families who volunteered to give their accounts, identified a “perception of little compassion or understanding” by staff.
The review found concerns “about the lack of communication particularly when the outcomes of care were not as planned”.
“Most families believed that when incidents occurred during surgery the facts were not shared with them by surgeons and others,” it reported.
“This has resulted in an increased concern for them believing something had gone wrong and then that it had been covered up.”
“One family who feels let down by the NHS is one family too many”
Mike Bewick, NHS England’s deputy medical director, said: “We are confident from the findings of the mortality review that clinical outcomes at the trust are in line with other, similar heart surgery units in England.
“But this alone is not good enough – one family who feels let down by the NHS is one family too many as these harrowing stories demonstrate.”
Sharon Cheng, director of the Children’s Heart Surgery Fund, the charity representing patients treated at their Leeds Children’s Heart Unit and their families, said she welcomed the report’s conclusions.
However, the Children’s Heart Federation claimed the report failed to investigate concerns regarding morbidity and repeat surgeries, which it had raised with the Care Quality Commission back in 2011.
Anne Keatley-Clarke, chief executive of the fund, said: “These include the quality of heart surgery and repeat operations, along with the morbidities of children who had received treatment at Leeds General Infirmary.”
She added: “We look forward to seeing the third strand of the review which is investigates concerns that have been raised by other clinicians in relation to inter-unit transfers and patient pathways and hopes that the future report will address our concerns”.