NHS ‘shambles’ as ten sick children taken 120 miles from Leeds heart unit

Leeds General Infirmary
Leeds General Infirmary
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TEN sick children have had to be transferred up to 120 miles from a Leeds paediatric heart unit while surgery was suspended, it emerged today.

The youngsters were due to be treated at Leeds General Infirmary’s children’s heart unit, where operations resumed today after being halted at the end of last month.

But they had to be transported to Birmingham, Alder Hey in Liverpool, Newcastle and six of the 10 were taken to Leicester while the unit was closed, it was revealed at a meeting today.

Surgery was suspended after NHS England said it had “serious concerns” that data showed the unit had a death rate double that of other centres.

However, the decision was widely criticised by experts who said the information was incomplete and the unit was given the all-clear to resume surgery last week after it was agreed it was safe.

At a meeting chaired by the Yorkshire and Humberside Joint Health Scrutiny Overview Committee in Leeds today, details of the impact on young patients were revealed.

John Illingworth, chairman of the committee, which assesses and monitors healthcare in the region, said the 10 children affected had endured further discomfort by being moved around the country while the future of the unit was being discussed.

“Distances like that are hard enough when you’re in good health,” he said, speaking outside the meeting.

He added that the decision to suspend surgery at the unit was “premature” as NHS England “rushed to conclusions” based on raw and potentially misleading data.

However, NHS England’s director for West Yorkshire, Andy Buck, told the meeting in Leeds Civic Hall that the health service had no choice but to act after the figures suggested a “potentially dangerous” situation.

“To not do things is very easy,” he said, adding that the suspension period enabled NHS England to ensure the unit was safe.

A Leeds MP said senior figures behind the decision should not play any further role in reorganising children’s heart surgery anywhere in Britain after they “put children at greater risk”.

Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland said NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh and Sir Roger Boyle, director of the Nicor, which oversees cardiovascular mortality data across the NHS, to be held to account over their role in the “shambolic” handling of the matter.

He said Sir Bruce’s decision to halt surgery was “disgraceful considering that his reckless and cynical action put children at greater risk, which is the simple reality of shutting down a safe surgery unit at such short notice”.

Mr Mulholland added: “It is great that children’s heart surgery has started again today in Leeds, but now we need investigation into the wrong decision to halt it.

“It is time for accountability. The arrogance of Sir Bruce Keogh and Sir Roger Boyle has been breathtaking.

“They thought they would get away with this. They will not and I think there are few who believe that either of them can or should play any further part in the reconfiguration of children’s heart surgery nationally.”

Mr Mulholland has written to the Secretary of State for Health calling for a full investigation into the closure and how it was handled.