LEEDS: Improvements To Children's Heart Unit

A report says improvements have been made to the heart unit in Leeds.

Improvements have been made at a children's heart surgery centre in Leeds that was temporarily closed last year due to fears over mortality rates, an independent review has found.

Paediatric cardiology at Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) was closely scrutinised and it is well-run and in a position to ``go from strength to strength'', a senior NHS director said.

The controversy over the heart unit was set against a background of concerns raised by surgeons in Newcastle about the care provided in Leeds, at a time when the future of both units was under discussion.

Children's heart surgery was halted for more than a week in March last year at Leeds before the all-clear was given to resume.

Independent reviews of three areas were commissioned - the Leeds unit's mortality rate, the experience of some families and 14 cases highlighted by Newcastle staff.

A review of all aspects now published has made 17 recommendations to improve care which should be adopted nationally.

NHS England's deputy medical director, Dr Mike Bewick, said: ``Patients should be reassured that this service has been rigorously scrutinised and has improved as a result.

``Patients and the public can have confidence that this is a well-run unit and is now in a position to go from strength to strength.

``Not only have we learned about service in Leeds we have learned lessons of relevance nationally.

``We are currently consulting on new standards for children's heart surgery across the country and the review in Leeds has made a significant contribution.''

Dr Bewick added: ``This thorough process would not have been possible without the full co-operation and participation of patients, families and clinicians.

``Reliving painful events or opening oneself up to public scrutiny is not easy.

``This review has been characterised by the willingness of individuals and organisations to do just that.''

The report recommends improvements should be made to record keeping, communicating with families, managing consultations on major reconfigurations, whistleblowing and on improving trust in the service.

The Children's Heart Surgery Fund, a charity which supports the Leeds unit, welcomed the review's findings.

Chief executive Sharon Cheng said: ``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.''

She said plans to streamline cardiac services nationally ``pitted units against each other and created a climate of fear and uncertainty''.

She added: ``The whole sad affair of the last 18 months has been a symptom of this.''

And she said: ``Success rates in this speciality, both at the Leeds unit and nationally, stand at 98.2%, an incredible statistic when dealing with such a complex speciality.

``Leeds is now performing more than 380 children's heart procedures per year.

``Its outcomes and quality of care are in line with national requirements and those of other units, and parents can feel 100% confident in the treatment that their children will receive at Leeds.

``This report gives us closure - let's now move on for the sake of our families and clinicians.''

Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said the changes already brought in justified the critical comments staff made about Leeds.

It stated: ``We can give a categorical assurance that our aim then, as it is now, reflects an unstinting commitment to improve pathways of care including choice where appropriate.''

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 nationwide 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.