Top medic ‘appalled’ by heart operation data leak

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A CONTROVERSIAL bid to suspend children’s heart surgery in Yorkshire has been plunged into chaos after key figures used to justify the move were branded “not fit to be used” by the experts producing them.

Bosses at Leeds General Infirmary agreed to halt operations after being confronted by leaked data showing death rates in its unit at least double the average.

But last night serious doubts were cast over a very early draft of figures drawn up by a committee of experts as it emerged information about scores of patients from Leeds had been omitted.

In a strongly-worded email seen by the Yorkshire Post to former heart czar Sir Roger Boyle, committee chairman John Gibbs said he was “truly appalled” at the leak.

He warned it would “destroy years of hard work” to build trust among doctors over figures which are seen as key to ensure public confidence in heart surgery.

Pudsey MP Stuart Andrew is demanding urgent talks between the region’s MPs and NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh over the service suspension 24 hours after a High Court judge ruled a decision to axe children’s heart surgery in Leeds was “legally flawed”.

Sir Bruce said the figures were among a “constellation of reasons” to suspend operations, coupled with “disturbing” calls he received from two heart surgeons raising concerns about referrals of complex cases by Leeds to other hospitals and staffing levels.

Dr Gibbs, lead clinician for congenital heart disease for the Central Cardiac Audit Database which is drawing up the figures, and a former paediatric cardiologist in Leeds, said he had been left “speechless” at the leak.

“I’m absolutely furious,” he said. “This data was not fit to looked at by anyone outside the committee.

“It was at a very preliminary stage and we are at the start of a long process to make sure the data was right and the methodology was correct. We would be irresponsible if we didn’t put in every effort to get the data right.

“It will cause untold damage for the future of audit results in this country. I think nobody will trust us again. It’s dreadful.”

Sir Bruce said there had been “rumblings” in the cardiac surgical community for some time that “all was not well” in Leeds, claiming hospital bosses had already been examining death rates.

He added: “I couldn’t do nothing. I couldn’t sit back just because the timing was inconvenient, awkward or would look suspicious, as it does.”

Mr Andrew said there were serious questions over the figures. He said: “The way this has been handled really is irresponsible. I have seen parents today in the unit and it’s just not fair on them at a time when their children are facing highly-complex surgery for them to be moved to another centre.”

Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland added: “On Thursday, Sir Bruce Keogh marches in and effectively shuts down children’s heart surgery in Leeds on the basis of dodgy figures that have not been verified, should not have been released, still have not been released, and on the basis of some anonymous representations from surgeons outside Leeds. It’s an absolute scandal.”

In a statement NHS England said: “Most of the big failures in NHS care have featured arguments about data. It is just days after the government’s response to the Mid Staffs inquiry where people hesitated for exactly this reason and people suffered. We hope that Leeds will shortly be in a position to restart children’s heart surgery secure in the knowledge that everything is OK.”