Minister denies role in Leeds heart unit closure

THE Government played no part in the decision to suspend children’s heart surgery at Leeds General Infirmary, peers were told today.

Supporters of the heart unit march through Leeds last summer

Health minister Earl Howe insisted the decision was taken by the local health trust in agreement with the Care Quality Commission and NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh.

“The Government strongly believes that it was the right thing to do,” he said at question time. “It is absolutely right that the NHS should act quickly and decisively if there is any evidence that patient safety maybe at risk.”

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But Liberal Democrat Lord Shutt of Greetland warned there had been “murky internal health politicking” going on over the issue of children’s heart surgery in Yorkshire.

Supporters of the heart unit march through Leeds last summer

He demanded: “Why is the Government determined to deny the people of Yorkshire a children’s heart unit when Yorkshire has a population of 5.3 million - similar to Scotland, Denmark and Finland.

“Yorkshire is double the size of the north east of England, where the Government is happy to see that region locally served.”

Lord Howe said the premise of Lord Shutt’s question was “incorrect”, adding: “The Government has not taken a role in this matter. This is a matter which the NHS has led. There’s no agenda by the Government at all apart from our desire to see the best possible children’s cardiac services provided in this country.”

For the Opposition, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath said Sir Bruce had an “outstanding record” in improving outcomes from heart surgery and had to be listened to with respect.

“Are you concerned that the Office of Fair Trading and the Competition Panel seem to be intervening in sensible reconfiguration decisions on the spurious basis of the impact on competition. Will you tell them to desist?” he asked.

Lord Howe said that if Lord Hunt provided him with examples he would look into them.

Tory Baroness Eaton said the views of medical experts involved in the Leeds case had sparked concerns over their “impartiality and apparent vested interest” and asked why surgery had not been suspended in other children’s heart units in Bristol and Birmingham.

Lord Howe said the decision to suspend surgery in Leeds had been taken because of concerns raised from a variety of sources about the safety of surgery at the unit. Mortality data had “signficant flaws” and until these were rectified it was impossible to be sure that the trust was operating within acceptable mortality thresholds.

“Those mortality concerns have, I understand, been resolved, which is why low risk children’s cardiac surgery has been resumed at the hospital.”