'Child heart ops should stop'

A government review's recommending no more child heart operations should be carried out in the Thames Valley, after four young patients died in the space of three months.

Heart operations on children were suspended at our region's centre at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford in March 2010 after the babies died within a few months of a new surgeon starting work there.

The NHS Safe and Sustainable review team has assessed the 11 paediatric heart centres in England in a bid to decide which are to become larger, regional centres of excellence, and which are to close.

In a steering group meeting held yesterday, it was decided the John Radcliffe Hospital was the least likely of the 11 to meet all of the quality standards needed.

The hospital's described the decision as "disappointing". In a statement posted on its website, a spokesman said: "This is very disappointing news for Oxford.

"The John Radcliffe Hospital is one of the smallest centres in the country, but we had hoped that the Safe and Sustainable team would recognise the potential that Oxford has in terms of geographical location and the presence of other connected clinical services on site."

The four babies who died all passed away between December 2009 and February 2010, and were under the care of surgeon Caner Salih.

An investigation carried out by the South Central strategic health authority published a report on the deaths in July and concluded Mr Saligh was not to blame, but highlighted issues within the Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals (ORH) NHS Trust, including a lack of preparation for his arrival.

The spokesman continued: "The ORH board will now wish to consider the implications of this recommendation and will want to continue discussions with the Safe and Sustainable team about the future of specialist children's heart services.

"We know our patients, their families and our staff will be very disappointed at this news and hope they will continue to participate in shaping the future of children's cardiac services when the formal consultation begins in the new year."

Andrew Stevens, director of planning and information at the hospital trust, said: "Oxford is one of the smallest centres and the main thrust of the Safe and Sustainable review is that there should be fewer, larger paediatric cardiac surgery centres in the future. It is perhaps therefore not surprising that Oxford was felt to have the highest mountain to climb."

Just 120 or so operations a year were carried out at the unit each year. An inquest into the death of one of the babies, Natalie Lo, who died aged 23 days, is to be held in Oxford at the end of the month.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "The Safe and Sustainable review has made an interim recommendation that potential configuration options for surgery should not include John Radcliffe Hospital.

"Children's cardiac surgery can be very complex and often involves very sick children. The Safe and Sustainable review of children's cardiac services was commissioned to ensure that services are fit for the future.

"We want to make sure that children have the best possible outcomes and that parents can choose the best care for their child.

"No final decision will be made on the future of the children's heart surgery service at the John Radcliffe Hospital until the outcome of a full public consultation is known in 2011.

"Local parents, NHS staff and the public will have the opportunity to make their views known during the consultation process.''

The Oxford centre will continue to provide specialised cardiology services for children, carrying out assessment work and ongoing care, but not surgery."