Leeds heart unit review ‘damaged trust’, reports find

Leeds General Infirmary. Picture: Ross Parry Agency
Leeds General Infirmary. Picture: Ross Parry Agency
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A CONTROVERSIAL shake-up of children’s heart surgery which threatened a Leeds unit damaged trust between doctors and patients, an independent report has found.

The now-abandoned review created rivalry between Leeds and Newcastle hospitals and a “strained relationship” between medics.

The criticisms were made in a long-awaited report into the temporary suspension of surgery at the Leeds General Infirmary unit last year.

It also found that a legal case launched by Leeds campaigners caused tension, while a consultant from Newcastle said they would doubt the accuracy of patient notes written by Leeds.

The reports’ authors call for a rebuilding of trust and confidence, saying “NHS England should act to dispel the ‘almost morbid sense of spectatorship and foreboding that hangs over these services’.”

Mike Bewick, deputy medical director of NHS England, told the Yorkshire Evening Post that efforts were being made.

“Already we’ve started a dialogue between the two centres,” he said.

“We will be doing this more frequently to make sure professional differences are put to bed and they can work together to provide a seamless service.”

The suspension of surgery came after concerns about mortality rates at the LGI unit and doctors from Newcastle had given NHS heads a dossier of 14 Leeds cases they said showed issues.

One of the newly-published reports found there were issues with risk assessments in two and with communication in five.

No evidence was found to support criticisms that Leeds doctors were reluctant to refer patients to Newcastle or anywhere else.

The report, by private firm Verita, said the allegations raised by Newcastle doctors were “not whistleblowing”, there were “inconsistencies” and the North East medics should have made it clearer that they were repeating concerns of other people.

And the authors said in only two of the 14 cases did they fully agree with the accuracy of the case summaries written by the Newcastle trust.

Dr Yvette Oade, chief medical officer at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “The report looking into the 14 cases found no evidence to support claims that our team was unwilling to refer patients to Newcastle or outside Yorkshire. “We recognise that in a small number of specific instances over a 10 year period, the report finds our unit did not match the high standards our patients rightly expect – this is not acceptable and we apologise to those families.

“Significant improvements have already been made at the unit over the last 18 months.”

A spokesman for Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the Freeman Hospital where their children’s heart surgery unit is based, said they “exercised freedom and a responsibility to patients and the NHS to fulfil the duty of candour, that for whatever the prevailing circumstances, were not receiving the appropriate care and treatment”.

Supporters of the Leeds unit said the reports vindicated their backing for the service.

Sharon Cheng, CEO of charity the Children’s Heart Surgery Fund, said: “The Verita report finally provides the balanced investigation and viewpoint that clinicians and families have been waiting for.

“The report’s findings confirm that the Leeds unit is safe and provides excellent standards of clinical care, treatment and outcomes for the children under its care.

“The Safe and Sustainable cardiac review pitted units against each other and created a climate of fear and uncertainty. The whole sad affair of the last 18 months has been a symptom of this.

“It is important to note that of the final 17 recommendations made, only one refers specifically to Leeds about communication. The rest are general points for all units.”

Stuart Andrew, MP for Pudsey, said: “The reports vindicate everything both I and others have been saying all along in support of the Unit and it is therefore vital that lessons are now learnt from this so that a similar situation cannot happen again in the future.”

Greg Mulholland, MP for Leeds North West, added that concerns must be properly dealt with, but could not be used for campaigning purposes.

* The mum of a current patient at Leeds children’s heart surgery unit said she “couldn’t speak highly enough” of care.

Lindsay Clarkson said criticisms of the Leeds General Infirmary service were worrying for families and admitted she was concerned when she was told her baby daughter would need to be treated there.

Renee-May Lock, now 10 months old, was diagnosed with a heart condition at six weeks old.

Lindsay, from Morley, Leeds, said: “She had to have the operation and when I spoke to other parents, nobody had a bad word to say against the unit. That really did set my mind at rest.”

Renee-May underwent her corrective operation in July and shouldn’t need further surgery until she is an adult.

“It’s sad that the unit has had to go through all this,” Lindsay added. “If other children are due to have surgery, it’s bound to put doubts into parents’ minds but all I can say is that the Leeds unit has been fantastic.”

However, families who raised concerns about Leeds children’s heart unit are “unhappy” about the latest reports, a parent said.

Michelle Elliott, whose daughter Jessica was initially treated at Leeds and then referred to Newcastle, described the assessment of concerns raised by doctors from the North East hospital as “riddled with inaccuracies”.

Jessica, from South Yorkshire, was left with brain damage after she had a stroke while waiting for a heart transplant, which she later had in Newcastle.

Mrs Elliott said she disputed the version of events concerning her daughter’s case described in the Verita report and added: “Had the Freeman Hospital not operated, my child would be dead now.”

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