Leeds children's heart unit 'safe' after death rate fears

Mar 13, 2014

But report details 'heart rending' stories of 16 families who suffered serious problems with care

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

A CHILDREN'S heart surgery unit in Leeds, which was suspended after patient death rates appeared too high, has been deemed safe after a year-long review.

The paediatric heart unit at Leeds General Infirmary was temporarily closed last March, before a swiftly-conducted review concluded that services were safe to resume a few weeks later.

The results of a second, more in-depth NHS England review has now concluded that the unit is "safe and running well".

However, the report did find serious problems with the care offered to 16 families of very sick children.

Dominic Hughes, BBC health correspondent, described their testimony as "heart rending". The report details how "at a time of extraordinary stress, they experienced a lack of compassion, poor counselling and badly handled complaints", says Hughes.

Out of hundreds of children treated at the unit every year, 16 families represents a "tiny minority", he says, but the report makes clear that every single one of them is entitled to the best possible care.

One parent, who has not been named, told investigators they were given "no support" by staff after their daughter had died. "We were given a leaflet," they said. "Nobody asked how we were getting home in the early hours of the morning."

Another parent described how a book, in which their son had been writing about his experiences before his death, had gone missing.

Julian Hartley, from Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust, offered a "heartfelt apology" to the families affected. "Although we treat 10,000 children a year and do 800 operations, one poor experience is one too many," he said.

Hartley added that action had already been taken to improve services, including the appointment of three permanent consultant surgeons, a full review of how complaints are handled and the opening of a new £1.75m children's intensive care unit. 

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