Sir Bruce Keogh called for an independent review of the unit


England’s top doctor has said he would allow his child to be treated on the children’s heart ward at a Bristol hospital, days after he ordered an independent review of the unit in the wake of safety fears.

In a statement addressed to the parents of children currently being treated on the paediatric cardiac unit at the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, the medical director of NHS England Sir Bruce Keogh said that his concerns about Bristol did not relate to “urgent safety issues that require immediate action”.

An independent review of the ward was ordered last week, after Sir Bruce met 10 families who have raised concerns about their children’s cardiac care. Parents of seven children who have died at the hospital, part of the University Hospitals Bristol (UHB) NHS Foundation Trust, attended the meeting.

However, Sir Bruce moved yesterday to reassure the hospital’s current patients and their families that death rates following surgery on the ward were “consistently in the middle of the pack compared with other units”.

“I have of course also heard, loudly and clearly, the serious concerns of the families,” Sir Bruce said. “These require forensic and effective investigation and the independent review should do that.”

However, data from the National Institute for Cardiovascular Outcomes Research (NICOR) showed that mortality rates following children’s heart surgery at the hospital are comparable to other units, he said.

He added: “As part of all this, I have asked myself the question that perhaps matters most: would I allow my child to go in today? The answer is ‘yes I would'.”

The father of seven-year-old Luke Jenkins, who died at the hospital in April 2012 after suffering complications following open heart surgery said he was “disappointed” by the statement and questioned whether Luke’s death had been included in the most up to date statistics for the hospital.

The UHB Trust said earlier this week that it welcomed the independent review and maintained that its children’s heart service was delivering “good clinical outcomes” with 98 per cent of patients saying they had received excellent, very good and good care.

James Roxburgh, president of the Society of Cardiothoracic, said that while the 10 families had raised “very serious concerns” which required investigation, mortality rates at the hospital were “normal for the types of operation performed”.

“While this important process takes its course, we must also remember that patients are being operated on and surgeons are carrying out very complex procedures,” he said. “We must ensure that we support surgeons and all those looking after patients to ensure the safety and stability of the unit.”

Sir Ian Kennedy, the senior lawyer and health expert who led an inquiry into child heart surgery at the same NHS trust in the 1990s, has been recalled to carry out the new review.

His report into the deaths of children between 1991 and 1995 marked a turning point in the history of the NHS and led to significant reforms to the delivery of child cardiac services in England.

Last Friday’s meeting with the 10 families was proposed by Sir Bruce himself, after the father of four-year-old Sean Turner, who died at the hospital in March 2012, sent a tweet calling for him to “pick up the reins” over safety fears. 

Inquests into the deaths of both Luke Jenkins and Sean Turner found “no gross failures” in the care the children received and the Trust has said that changes have been made to improve the number of nurses available to care for patients with higher levels of need. However, more families have come forward with concerns since the improvements were made, and several are still seeking legal action against the Trust.