Anger at Leeds heart op data leak

Five-year-old Isaac Sheard, who had a heart operation at the LGI four weeks ago. PIC: Steve Riding

Five-year-old Isaac Sheard, who had a heart operation at the LGI four weeks ago. PIC: Steve Riding

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A controversial bid to suspend children’s heart surgery in Leeds has been plunged into chaos after key figures used to justify the move were branded “not fit to be used”.

Bosses at Leeds General Infirmary have agreed to suspend heart operations for youngsters after being confronted by new data showing death rates in its unit at least double the national average.

But last night serious doubts were cast over the figures drawn up by a committee of experts as it emerged information about scores of patients from Leeds had been omitted.

Pudsey MP Stuart Andrew has written to NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh demanding urgent talks over the service suspension which came 24 hours after a High Court judge ruled a decision to axe children’s heart surgery was “legally flawed”.

John Gibbs, lead clinician for congenital heart disease for the Central Cardiac Audit Database which is drawing up the figures, who is a former paediatric cardiologist in Leeds, condemned the leak of the figures.

“I’m absolutely furious. This data was not fit to looked at by anyone outside the committee,” he said.

“It was at a very preliminary stage and we are at the start of a long process to make sure the data was right and the methodology was correct. We would 
be irresponsible if we didn’t put in every effort to get the data right.”

Sir Bruce said the figures were among a “constellation of reasons” to suspend operations, coupled with “disturbing” calls he received from two heart surgeons about referrals by Leeds of complex cases to other hospitals and staffing levels.

He claimed there had been “rumblings” among the cardiac surgical community for some time that “all was not well” in Leeds although he admitted the timing of the suspension looked “suspicious”.

He added: “I couldn’t do nothing. I couldn’t sit back just because the timing was

inconvenient, awkward or would look suspicious, as it does.”

Mr Andrew said concerns needed to be investigated but there were clearly serious questionmarks over the figures being used.

“The way this has been handled really is irresponsible.

“I have seen parents today in the unit and it’s just not fair

on them at a time when their children are facing highly complex surgery for them to be moved to another centre,” he said.

Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland said he was “stunned” by the suspension of services and called for Sir Bruce to resign over the “deeply questionable action”.

In a statement, NHS England said the investigation was a “prudent precautionary step”.

“Most of the big failures in NHS care have featured arguments about data. It is just days after the Government’s response to the Mid Staffs inquiry where people hesitated for exactly this reason and people suffered,” it said.

20 October 2003...Leeds General Infirmary in Great George Street, Leeds. Story Jim  Seton.

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