A war of words has erupted after the Government’s former “heart tsar” accused West Yorkshire MPs of “downright disgraceful” behaviour over Leeds Children’s Heart Surgery Unit.
Sir Roger Boyle, former head of the body which raised concerns about death rates, criticised politicians in the wake of a report into the temporary suspension of surgery last year.
But Pudsey MP Stuart Andrew described his comments as “offensive” and “crass”.
And Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland said Sir Roger, who controversially said he would not send his child for treatment in Leeds even after surgery had restarted, should be “embarrassed and wanting to stay out of the limelight”.
Sir Roger made the comments after yesterday’s publication of a report into the 35 deaths at the Leeds General Infirmary unit over the past four years found no issues with care and concluded that mortality rates were not excessive and the service was safe.
Child heart operations at the hospital were suspended in March last year, partly due to concerns over seemingly high mortality rates shown by data from the National Institute for Cardiovascular Outcomes Research (Nicor), which Sir Roger headed. He later resigned.
That data was later shown to be inaccurate and surgery was restarted a few weeks later, with a further scrutiny of deaths being carried out since then.
After yesterday’s publication of that report and a further review of complaints from families which highlighted problems, Sir Roger said he still believed there were too many children’s heart surgery units but that “the establishment has turned their face against it, largely I think influenced by the strength of views of families who have had good outcomes in each of these centres... but also through political intervention.
“The behaviour of some of the MPs was downright disgraceful, particularly some of the West Yorkshire MPs vying for position to be the MP who saved the Leeds surgical programme.”
In response, Stuart Andrew (Con) said: “I find it deeply offensive that he is saying that we have been doing this for votes.
“I have had people coming to my surgery to raise this issue with me because I am their MP and that’s what I’m supposed to do.
“We have always conducted this as a joint approach from all MPs in Yorkshire and to make out we have done it for votes is just crass.”
Greg Mulholland (Lib Dem) added: “He should be embarrassed and wanting to stay out of the limelight considering his track record rather than coming on the radio, sounding off and causing distress to families and unsettling staff at a surgical unit we now know to be safe.
“The review has now confirmed what was evident to us last year which was that the unit is safe and was safe all along.”
Mr Mulholland said the report confirmed NHS England head Sir Bruce Keogh was “entirely wrong” to suspend surgery and should apologise.
The MP added that complaints about the NHS must be heard and properly dealt with – and that this had happened in Leeds.
“However that’s a different matter from whether the unit is found to be safe and it was wrong of NHS England to confuse these two things.”
* A campaign group for parents who say they have experienced poor care at the Leeds Children’s Heart Surgery Unit said they wanted further action.
The calls from Fragile Hearts came after the publication of a report which found problems described as showing a “tragic lack of communication, compassion and sometimes basic kindness”.
Julian Hartley, the chief executive of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, apologised over the experiences, which included mums who said they felt pressurised to have a termination when their unborn babies were diagnosed with heart defects and families whose children died who felt they were not treated with compassion.
Fragile Hearts said the report was “damning” but added: “We do not believe that the changes instigated by NHS England within the unit go far enough, as we believe that the changes required are not only in the skill and care provided, but in the attitude of those care providers.
“We therefore call for systemic changes within the unit.”