Leeds heart surgery death figures wrong, says cardiologist

Elspeth Brown: "We are confident that our mortality figures are well within what would be expected"

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Children's heart surgery was wrongly suspended at Leeds General Infirmary because of "incomplete" information, a senior doctor has said.

The unit was shut after the NHS medical director said data showed mortality figures were higher than expected.

But cardiologist Elspeth Brown said the data did not include all the operations, and that staff were confident in their clinical work.

NHS managers say various factors contributed to the suspension.

Surgery was suspended on Thursday, just 24 hours after a High Court ruling kept the unit open.

NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh said while the timing was "embarrassing" he had to act because data suggested a death rate twice the national average, and after concerns were raised about junior staff.

Ms Brown told the BBC that, since the announcement, she and colleagues had been examining the data that was used to make the decision..

"We do now know that the figures that were presented... were simply wrong, they were incomplete, did not include all the operations in Leeds, and that they had then been subject to some statistical analysis which generated this headline figure.

Start Quote

We need people to stop attacking us, and we need to resume surgery as soon as possible”

End Quote Elspeth Brown Senior cardiologist

"We've been looking very hard at the figures over the last three years and we are confident that our mortality figures are well within what would be expected. All the clinicians in Leeds are very happy with our figures at present."

The hospital is at the centre of a long-running dispute over the future of children's heart services, and an NHS review said surgery would be better focused at fewer, larger sites.

Staffing concerns

Ms Brown said that it must be worrying for families of patients, but as clinicians they were "completely confident in our service".

"We need to put this to bed. We need people to stop attacking us, and we need to resume surgery as soon as possible."

Children who would have been treated in Leeds will be sent to other hospitals around England while a review, expected to last three weeks, is carried out.

Professor Sir Roger Boyle: "Safety first is the watchword"

Sir Bruce had been contacted by, among others, Professor Sir Roger Boyle, director of the National Institute for Cardiovascular Outcomes Research, which oversees mortality figures across the NHS.

Sir Roger told BBC Breakfast concerns were raised that two "relatively junior surgeons" had been left in charge of the unit, as well as from families of patients who claimed their requests to be transferred to other units were ignored.

"To have two relatively inexperienced people holding fort, without the ability for any senior advice, is a precarious situation in my view.

"It's a question of experience and fine balance between being able to offer a safe service and one that is precarious."

However, Ms Brown said there were two locum consultants who had been in their posts for six months, and although they were "relatively junior in their consultant career but they are both very experienced surgeons, and I have no concerns about them whatsoever."

Meanwhile, the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, has paid tribute to the work of the staff at the cardiology unit and said he hoped the data would be properly analysed and published.

"I'm a layman, I'm not a doctor, I'm not a surgeon, all I can say is that I'm grateful for the commitment and the care this particular clinic has given and so when all the statistics are come out, I hope they'll be made public."

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