A children’s heart surgery centre that was temporarily closed last year due to fears over mortality rates is safe, according to a comprehensive review of its services.
But the report into paediatric cardiology at Leeds General Infirmary outlined the experiences of 16 families who complained of poor care at the unit, prompting apologies from both NHS England and the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the hospital.
One mother described how she felt pressurised into having an abortion, which was against her Muslim beliefs.
Others complained about a lack of compassion following the death of their child. NHS England said in its overview of the report: “We conclude that these families did not get the level of care or service that they deserved and for this we are truly sorry.”
Operations at the LGI unit were suspended for more than a week last year after NHS England raised concerns about data on death rates at the centre.
The move provoked huge anger and debate, especially as parents and clinicians from the unit linked it to the ongoing controversy about which children’s heart surgery units were to be closed as part of a nationwide rationalisation of the service.
Surgery resumed on April 10 last year and NHS England announced it was implementing the full review that reported. The report was in two parts.
The first was a statistical analysis of mortality rates, focussing on the 35 children who died following surgery at the unit from 2009 to March last year.
A second part of the report examined the experiences of 16 families who felt they had been let down by the unit, prompting six to have their child’s treatment transferred to another centre.
One parent told the investigators: “We were given no support by the staff after Annie died. We were given a leaflet. Nobody asked how we were getting home in the early hours of the morning.”
The LGI unit had been earmarked for closure, along with two others in Leicester and the Royal Brompton in west London as part of a plan to streamline children’s cardiac surgery into fewer, more specialised units.
But, after a fierce campaign by some parents whose children were treated at the LGI and two legal challenges, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt halted the plan and ordered NHS England to re-evaluate the whole process.
Dr Yvette Oade, the chief medical officer at Leeds Teaching Hospitals, said: “We are pleased for our patients, families and staff that the Mortality Case Review has confirmed the medical and surgical care provided by the children’s heart surgery unit in Leeds is safe.”