Leeds General Infirmary said the temporary measure was being taken to allow an internal review to take place. / Getty Images

NHS medical director claims whistleblowers led to decision

A Leeds MP has called for the NHS's top doctor to resign after he used "dodgy figures" and "some anonymous representations" to justify the the suspension of surgery at a children's heart unit in Leeds.

Greg Mulholland called the actions "an absolute scandal".

Last night congenital heart surgery was suspended at Leeds General Infirmary's children's ward. The hospital said the temporary measure was being taken to allow an internal review to take place, and this morning Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director of the NHS, spoke to  BBC Radio 4's Today programme to address concerns and explain the decision to halt operations.

“It was a constellation of things," Sir Bruce said. "Firstly, earlier in the year I had been copied in to correspondence from the Children’s Heart Federation, who were expressing concerns over aspects of decision-making in Leeds, particularly suspicions, if you like, that Leeds were not referring complex cases on to other centres with better expertise ... so that was the first thing.

“The second was that there had been rumblings in the cardiac surgical community for some time that all was not well in Leeds and on Tuesday I had two phone calls which I found disturbing, both from highly respected, temperate surgeons who commenced the conversations by saying that they had to speak out.

“One was endorsing the suspicions of the Children’s Heart Federation and the other raised issues over staffing levels in Leeds.

“Then I was up in Leeds anyway and at 4pm on Wednesday I had a call from an extremely agitated senior cardiologist who had a preliminary cut of some mortality data from Central Cardiac Audit Database, which showed that mortality for 2011-12 and 2010-11 was considerably higher than any other unit in the country and there was clear blue water between the Leeds mortality and other units, so as medical director I couldn’t do nothing.”

But Mr Mulholland hit back, telling The BBC's World at One: "On Thursday, Sir Bruce Keogh marches in and effectively shuts down children's heart surgery in Leeds on the basis of dodgy figures that have not been verified, should not have been released, still have not been released, and on the basis of some anonymous representations from surgeons outside Leeds. It's an absolute scandal.

"Let me be absolutely clear and explicit: Sir Bruce Keogh is not being honest about either the closure process or the reasons behind it."

Families of some ill children have claimed that the hospital failed to send them to another centre for life-saving surgery, instead offering only palliative care. The health watchdog the Care Quality Commission is looking into the claims, which the hospital trust denies.

Maggie Boyle, the chief executive of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said about the closure: "Following discussions earlier today with senior representatives from NHS England and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) the trust has agreed to carry out an internal review, independently validated and supported by external experts.

"This will look at all aspects of congenital cardiac surgery for children undertaken at the unit in Leeds.

"We have taken the decision to temporarily pause children's congenital cardiac surgery and associated interventions while this review is conducted, a process we would aim to complete in around three weeks."

She went on: "We are confident in the quality of the care provided by our staff and hope they will bear with us during this difficult time."

The unit at Leeds had been earmarked for closure by the NHS, along with others at Glenfield Hospital, Leicester, and the Royal Brompton, London, as part of consolidation plans. On Wednesday a High Court judge quashed the closures for that reason, saying the consultation process had been flawed. The NHS is looking to appeal.

Last night Sharon Cheng, from Save Our Surgery - the group which is co-ordinating the fight to keep children’s heart surgery in Leeds – told the Northern Echo: "We're mystified. We don't know of anything that could justify this step."

Acute heart surgery will continue.

Nicola Garbutt, from Skipton, North Yorkshire, whose one-year-old grandson George Hall was born with an under-developed heart, told the BBC the family had to fight to have him treated in Newcastle rather than Leeds.

Ms Garbutt said: "We lived with a year being told he needed palliative care and if we had trusted Leeds it would still be palliative care with a life restriction.

"But now we've got George back and he is going to live a normal life."

Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust has strenuously denied the claims.

A spokesman said it had not restricted referrals or failed to carry out surgery and was holding talks with the health watchdog.

A statement from the Leeds trust said: "Our principal concern has always been, and continues to be, a patient's health.