Management interests "put ahead of critically ill children"

All congential surgery has been suspended Credit: Press Association

Following the suspension of congenital heart surgery at Leeds General Infirmary the Children's Heart Federation has issued a statement saying that "managers and clinicians and the parent support group, have put their own interests ahead of the well-being of critically ill children".

Here is the statement in full:

Children’s Heart Federation is deeply saddened by the announcement that paediatric heart surgery is being suspended at Leeds Children Hospital. Our thoughts are with the heart children and their families who have not received the quality of treatment they needed and deserved.

We hope that the suspension of children’s heart surgery at Leeds Children’s Hospital will cause those involved in the delivery of that service – and all children’s heart care services throughout the UK – to refocus on the priority of providing the best possible care to children with heart problems.

Four years ago, former consultant surgeon Prof Tony Giddings asked:

“Do we need to have a second Bristol before we can actually make the cultural changes that are needed? We have continued to have avoidable deaths in surgery because the lessons that were so clearly set out in Sir Ian Kennedy’s report [into the Bristol Babies Scandal] have not been acted upon.”

We had hoped that lessons would have been learnt from the suspension in 2010 of the paediatric cardiac surgical service at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford – not least that a huge gap can exist between the poor quality of a service and the messages about it coming out from staff at a hospital to those who use the services. At that time, we hoped that care standards developed as part of the Safe and Sustainable process would be implemented. It is heartbreaking to see that that has not been the case.

The Safe and Sustainable process to reorganise children’s heart care services in order to drive up the quality of surgical services, in order to save lives, has sometimes brought out very unpleasant behaviours between teams at specialist surgical units aggressively competing to continue operating.

Now is the moment for units to leave behind empire-building to work constructively together to ensure children scheduled for surgery at Leeds get the attention they need elsewhere with minimal delay and maximum support for them and their families. This is a very anxious time for families of children who need heart surgery; they have already waited a year to learn what the new heart care networks will look like, during which time, in some centres, there has been a freeze on investment. The lack of certainty is causing some staff to leave units, weakening care rotas, leading to the cancellation of operations and the lengthening of waiting times which can harm the health of already very sick children.

We are glad that the Safe and Sustainable process has brought greater transparency into the paediatric cardiac service, so that results that fall outside expected quality standards cause the rapid suspension of a service, in order to prevent children lives being put at risk. We call upon the Safe and Sustainable team to enable the truth about the quality of services to be clearly in the public domain.

Ms Keatley-Clarke, Chief Executive of The Children’s Heart Federation said:

“My concern is that it appears that managers and clinicians in Leeds, together with the parent support group, have put their own interests ahead of the well-being of critically ill children and their very vulnerable parents. Parents trust these people, in whose hands they have placed the lives of their children, to provide them with accurate and honest information. We await the outcome of the internal review with interest and hope desperately that it will not transpire that families trust has been abused.’’

We are sure that this news will be very worrying for parents of heart children and we are pleased that the Trust is contacting affected families directly.

The implementation of standards of care developed for NHS Safe and Sustainable Children’s Heart Surgery Services programme will ensure a much better service for the future, but only if politicians and clinicians put patient safety above popularity and self-interest . We urge the professional bodies to show strong leadership and actively support the radical changes needed at national level and the cultural changes needed within units and work together to ensure that the decision made on 4th July 2012 by the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts is implemented as soon as possible.