The Sunday Times - Babies at risk in hospitals' survival battle

A ONE-YEAR-OLD boy at the centre of a battle between two child heart units that are fighting for survival is this weekend recovering after undergoing lifesaving surgery.

The boy spent his first birthday on Friday in the operating theatre at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, where surgeons carried out delicate open heart surgery.

The infant’s relatives believe doctors at Leeds General Infirmary, where he was originally seen, made the wrong diagnosis and it was only when the infant was seen by his district hospital in Airedale, West Yorkshire, that he was sent for urgent treatment at the specialist unit inNewcastle upon Tyne.

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs Leeds General, denies misdiagnosis and any delay in referral. However, it is feared that similar cases will emerge as a result of a reorganisation of child heart centres.

The NHS has recommended an end to child heart surgery at Leeds and the RoyalBromptonHospitalinLondon. This decision has prompted lengthy campaigns and legal battles. Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, is due to make a final decision on the future of the units later this year.

A reduction in the number of specialist units was recommended by a review set up after the heart surgery scandal at Bristol Royal Infirmary. Up to 35 children and babies died at the hospital as a result of substandard care between 1991 and 1995.

Under the proposals, children in Yorkshire needing heart treatment would go to the FreemanHospital.

The parents of those being treated at Leeds claim that, as a result of the bitter fight for survival and in an effort to deny Newcastle an increase in the number of children it treats, requests for referrals, either for a second opinion or because their child requires more complex surgery, have met resistance or delay.

Denying those claims, a spokesman for the Leeds trust said: “As we have always done, we refer patients to Newcastle when that is clinically appropriate … and we certainly do not have an agenda against Newcastle or any other children’s heart surgery centre. We will also refer patients to Newcastle or any other centre at their request if they indicate a strong personal choice to go there.”

The issue has been brought to a head by the case of the one-year-old, whom The Sunday Times has agreed not to identify.

Referring to her concerns, the child’s grandmother claimed: “Leeds have misdiagnosed [my grandson] now. He has got none of the conditions that Leeds said. It is his birthday today as well. I have just called Leeds up and I want to know the answer to some questions. How can you misdiagnose someone so terribly wrongly?” Leeds denied the child had been misdiagnosed and said a consultant from Leeds, working at Airedale, had referred the infant to Newcastle for surgery.

It said preparations had been made to operate on the boy at Leeds but that the family had requested a referral to Newcastle.

Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the FreemanHospital, confirmed the admission of the child last Tuesday. “The children’s unit at Airedale GeneralHospital liaised directly with the FreemanHospitalin this respect and are to be commended for supporting the family in bringing this about,” the trust said.

Doctors and charities say the delays caused by attempts to stop the reorganisation of child heart surgery units is putting children’s lives at risk.

Anne Keatley-Clarke, chief executive of the Children’s Heart Federation, said: “These cases are extremely worrying and the quality of the care and support these parents received should certainly be looked at.”

Professor Martin Elliott, a member of the NHS Safe and Sustainable steering group that drafted the proposed changes, said: “The longer the delay goes on, the more exposed children’s lives will become … You create unnecessary animosity. People get over-defensive about their territory.

This isn’t about territory, this is about children.” Professor Sir Roger Boyle, former national director for heart disease and stroke at the Department of Health, said: “The clinical needs of the children must come first, not the vested interests of hospital campaigns.

“The landmark decision … on the future of children’s heart services was backed publicly by royal colleges of medicine, doctors, nurses and national charities.”

 

Source: The Sunday Times 13/01/2013