Cover up claim at children's heart unit in Leeds is denied

THE government's former heart '˜tsar' has claimed management at the children's heart surgery unit in Leeds 'disguised' problems to keep it open.

Leeds General Infirmary
Leeds General Infirmary

Sir Roger Boyle has claimed bosses covered up problems with surgeon Nihal Weerasena, who was last week struck off by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal.

Mr Weerasena, a former consultant heart surgeon at the children’s heart unit who repeatedly made mistakes during surgery, was found to be incompetent by a hearing at a Medical Practitioners Tribunal in Manchester and was struck off the medical register.

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Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust has said concerns were raised about Mr Weeraseena with the trust in mid-March 2013 and as a result he was asked not to undertake any clinical practice.

This was before concerns about the children’s heart unit at Leeds were raised by Sir Roger.

The trust said it is a separate matter to the concerns raised by NHS England about the paediatric heart surgery unit and its temporary closure on Thursday 28 March 2013.

Sir Roger was forced to resign as Director of NICOR (National Institute for Cardiovascular Outcomes Research), which audits mortality figures in heart surgery, after raising questions about death rates at the Leeds Children’s Heart Unit in 2013.

In an interview with BBC Inside Out due to be screened on BBC1 at 7.30pm tomorrow (Mon Jan 23), Sir Roger said “I don’t think they sat down round a table in Leeds and said “How are we going to hide this from the public?” But they were in such a defensive mode where big decisions about the future of their service were still being made. And they felt under threat, that they were defensive to an extreme level, which ended up in them actually disguising the problems that were present within their organisation from the public, from the media and in particular from their local MPs.”

When asked if the trust was lying, Sir Roger replied: “To be blunt about it yes. I think they were terrified that the unit would be removed from the hospital and that would be a big blight both in terms of the reputation of the place and also in terms of the financial income.

“I think that the management at Leeds General Infirmary at that time were less than transparent (about Dr Nihal Weerasena’s mistakes.)”

A spokeswoman for the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “During a prolonged and very difficult period of time for the children’s heart surgery unit in Leeds the trust was open and truthful in its statements to the public, media and MPs.

“Regarding the issue of whistleblowing, the concerns raised were taken seriously and NHS England took the action to temporarily suspend services at the children’s heart surgery unit in Leeds. Following this, a number of independent reviews were undertaken into the concerns raised and they concluded that the service was safe. The spokeswoman added: : “We reiterate our sincere apologies to those patients and families where significant failings took place in the care provided by Mr Weerasena.”