CHF Comment on Paediatric Cardiac Surgery at the Leeds Children’s Hospital

For immediate release  28th March 2013


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.




Notes for editors:

  • The Children`s Heart Federation (CHF) is the leading UK charity working for families of children with heart conditions. CHF is an umbrella body with 24 member organisations that support children and young people with heart defects from birth or acquired in childhood and their families in the UK and Ireland. CHF provides information and support through its freephone helpline 0808 808 5000, open Monday to Friday and its


  • Approximately 5000 babies in the UK are born with a heart condition each year, with a further 1000 developing a serious heart problem after birth. Around 3600 operations are performed by 31 paediatric cardiac surgeons within 11 centres in England each year.


  • On 4 July 2012 a Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts met to decide the future configuration of children’s congenital heart services and decided that the options for change that will provide the best  quality care s the one where congenital heart networks will formally structured around Specialist Surgical Centres in Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle and Southampton. Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children and Evelina Children’s Hospital will lead the congenital heart networks in London and the South East. :


  • Earlier this month a High Court Judicial Review, found parts of the NHS consultation process had been ‘flawed’ and yesterday ordered that that part be of the process be repeated. The NHS are considering what their next steps will be.


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