A LEADING specialist is facing calls to step down from his position advising a review over the future of children’s heart surgery after he yesterday said he would not send his daughter for treatment in Yorkshire.
Former heart czar Sir Roger Boyle played a key role triggering a review of safety which saw services suspended for 12 days at Leeds General Infirmary after he raised concerns over an early draft of figures which appeared to show high death rates in the unit.
He has also been a leading adviser to the NHS Safe and Sustainable review ordered by health chiefs which decided in July to axe children’s heart surgery in Leeds although this has now been overturned in the High Court. The Leeds unit reopened on Wednesday after NHS chiefs concluded it was safe but yesterday Sir Roger said care at the centre was “on the edge of acceptability”.
Sir Roger, a former cardiologist at York Hospital, said that despite safety assurances, a comprehensive analysis of data at the infirmary called for the children’s cardiac unit to remain under supervision.
“We find they’re just on the edge of what we call an alert. In other words, showing that they were right on the edge of acceptability,” he said.
He added that he would not send his children to Leeds. “I would go somewhere else,” he said. “I would go to Newcastle.”
His comments appear to refer to mortality rates in Leeds from 2009-12 which have been published this week by NHS England. These show services at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool and at the Evelina Hospital in London are also on the edge of an alert.
Both of these would survive under the NHS Safe and Sustainable review, with patients from Bradford, Huddersfield and Calderdale expected to travel to Merseyside for treatment.
Yesterday, NHS England medical director Sir Bruce Keogh said he disagreed with Sir Roger’s comments.
He added: “When I was originally presented with the data and the concerns that landed on my desk a couple of weeks ago, I would not have allowed my child to be operated upon in Leeds – therefore it is not fair that I would have allowed it for other people.
“Having reviewed the unit, having reviewed the data, the performance in Leeds is in keeping with good national standards and I would be very happy to have my child operated upon in Leeds.”
In an interview, Sir Bruce was asked if Sir Roger should stand down from his role with NHS Safe and Sustainable.
He replied: “I think the answer to that is yes. But Roger Boyle was the national clinical director for heart disease in this country for about 12 years and he has done more for the improvement of heart disease than anyone since the inception of the NHS. And that’s why a number of people were puzzled by these remarks.”
Sharon Cheng, of the campaign group Save Our Surgery, said: “We are very pleased that Sir Bruce has reiterated in the strongest terms that he would have no problem sending his child to have surgery at Leeds.
“We hope that this will help to reassure patients’ families who will have been confused and worried once again by Sir Roger Boyle’s unhelpful, inflammatory and unfounded comments.”
She said campaigners had been questioning Sir Roger’s objectivity for some time and by his actions, he had reinforced what they had always claimed – “that the whole safe and sustainable review was pre-determined”.
She added: “He should be removed from any further involvement with the reconfiguration of children’s heart surgery units.”
Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland called for Sir Roger’s removal from decision-making over NHS services.
“Sir Roger’s comments are disgraceful and, considering how many parents of daughters and sons rely on the Leeds children’s heart unit, irresponsible,” he added.
Pudsey MP Stuart Andrew tweeted: “Sir Roger Boyle’s position is now untenable. It’s a question of judgment and our parents deserve better.”
Mike Bewick, deputy medical director of NHS England, said that officials were examining how the Leeds unit “operates as a whole” following an initial review which concluded it was safe. “I hope we will soon be able to give the unit a full clean bill of health beyond this immediate reassurance of safety,” he said.