Child heart surgery at Leeds stopped


Leeds General Infirmary, the hospital at the centre of a long-running row over the future of its children's heart services, has suspended all congenital cardiac surgery on children.

Child Heart Surgery Stopped

The unit at Leeds had been earmarked for closure by the NHS, along with others at Glenfield Hospital, Leicester, and the Royal Brompton, London, as part of consolidation plans. On Wednesday a High Court judge quashed the closures for that reason, saying the consultation process had been flawed. The NHS is looking to appeal.

Campaigners fighting to keep the unit open have stated that "in our opinion, given the initial campaign to reverse the closure of the unit, the timing of this decision is beyond suspicious".

Sir Bruce Keogh, the medical director of the NHS has said that there was a "constellation of reasons" why the Trust had no choice but to close the unit. He said that there have been rumblings in the cardiac surgical community for some time that all was not well in Leeds.

He also said that information was available which suggested a death rate twice the national average, and that surgeons had raised their concerns. There were also suspicions that the hospital was not referring patients involved in complex cases to other heart units where they could get better care.

He conceded the timing, just 24 hours after a High Court ruling kept the unit open, was "embarrassing" but that he "couldn't sit back just because the timing was inconvenient, awkward or would look suspicious, as it does".

Maggie Boyle, the chief executive of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust has said that "Following discussions ... with senior representatives from NHS England and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) the Trust has agreed to carry out an internal review, independently validated and supported by external experts. This will look at all aspects of congenital cardiac surgery for children undertaken at the unit in Leeds".

Children who would have been treated in Leeds will be sent to other hospitals around England. Affected families are being contacted directly by the Trust and the review is expected to take 3 weeks.

Congenital heart defects

Congenital heart defects are present in about 6 out of 1,000 babies. They take the form of holes between the chambers, blockages in the pathways from the heart to the lungs or the body, or abnormal connections between the chambers and vessels of the heart.

Today, many children with heart defects can lead a normal, healthy life as some conditions can now be treated safely either before or after birth.

It goes without saying that cardiac surgery has a number of inherent risks, and that as parents we accept those risks to give our child the best possible chance in life, but we would expect the cardiac surgeons to be fully aware of those risks and to take measures to reduce them.

However, it is sometimes the case that as a result of an avoidable mistake a child could suffer a complex range of problems which may leave them dependent on others for all aspects of daily living and require round-the-clock care for life. They may also have a limited life expectancy.

For example:
  • A delay in diagnosing and treating a heart defect could result in a severe and permanent brain injury, spastic quadriparesis, epilepsy, language development, partial blindness.
  • The period of circulatory arrest during a routine surgery may have exceeded a safe level and that excessive period of circulatory arrest will cause damage which would be the underlying basis for developmental, intellectual and behavioural problems in a child but which may not come to light.
  • A child’s body temperature may have been allowed to drop negligently, when it is imperative that body temperature is properly controlled. If the body’s temperature became unstable and there was insufficient oxygen in the red blood cells within the blood stream then a child could suffer a cardiac arrest which may result in severe brain damage.

Therefore, taking into account the devastating damage that a negligently performed cardiac surgery can have, whether the timing is suspicious or not, the Trust has a duty to investigate any concerns raised.

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