Staff shortage ‘shows heart review flawed’

Thousands march through Leeds in July to protest at the closure
Thousands march through Leeds in July to protest at the closure
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CAMPAIGNERS fighting to keep children’s heart surgery in Leeds say a watchdog’s criticism of another hospital involved in the shake-up adds weight to their claims that the review was flawed.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) found that Bristol Royal Hospital for Children had inadequate staff levels to care for patients on a cardiac ward.

Sharon Cheng.

Sharon Cheng.

The health watchdog said it had given the hospital a formal warning for not having appropriate staff numbers on a ward caring for babies and children with heart problems.

It has now been forced to restrict the number of children’s cardiac operations it carries out.

Bristol Royal Hospital was one of those chosen to continue providing paediatric heart surgery services for patients across England and Wales.

In July, NHS chiefs decided to close the surgical units at Leeds General Infirmary, as well as at Glenfield Hospital in Leicester and the Royal Brompton in Chelsea in west London as part plans to streamline and improve treatment.

If the Leeds unit shut, some children from Yorkshire would travel more than three hours for life-saving operations.

The NHS Safe and Sustainable review was originally triggered by concerns over standards of surgery exposed in the Bristol heart scandal in the 1990s.

Last night the Leeds-based Save Our Surgery campaign said it was “extremely concerned” at the commission’s report into the Bristol unit.

Sharon Cheng, of Save Our Surgery, said: “The CQC report findings provide yet more concrete evidence that this review was based on flawed data and scoring methods that do not reflect the real picture across all key metrics in the units included.

“Now, only four months after this decision was announced, these fundamental questions have been raised about Bristol – this is obviously a serious concern.

“This is about the lives of children and is not an area where we can afford to have errors left unchecked or information remain hidden.”

She added that the CQC report strengthened the case that the review did not provide an accurate picture of the unit and added that it also “did not have any robust basis for saying that Bristol would be able to increase the number of cases it handled every year”.

The CQC said that, during an unannounced inspection, it found there were not enough qualified, skilled and experienced staff to meet patients’ needs on one of the wards at the hospital, which is run by University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust.

Inspectors found that the hospital had been failing to meet three essential standards of quality and safety covering staffing levels, staff training and support, and the overall care and welfare of patients.

The trust said that since the warning, it had reduced the number of beds on the ward and cut its programme of cardiac surgery.

It said it had brought forward plans to develop a high-dependency unit and had addressed the issues raised.

A spokesman for NHS Safe and Sustainable, which carried out the heart surgery review, said an independent expert panel had assessed children’s heart surgical services in Bristol and concluded that is had “demonstrated good compliance with new professional standards”. It had been designated one of seven hospitals in England to provide children’s heart surgery in the future earlier this year.

The Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt last week ordered the Independent Reconfiguration Panel to review the decision to close the units in Leeds, Leicester and at the Royal Brompton.