Row grows over decision to shut Leeds Infirmary's heart unit

Children's cardiac centre deaths only 'a little high', says expert, as faulty data blamed for closure

A bitter row over a decision to suspend children's heart surgery at Leeds General Infirmary was further inflamed yesterday after an expert in health statistics said the death rate at the hospital was only marginally higher than at similar centres.

Professor Sir Brian Jarman, who co-founded the health statistics and research service Dr Foster, yesterday said the latest information suggested the death rate at LGI was "a little high". But he added: "It is not significantly higher than other units." Professor Jarman, one of Britain's foremost hospital data analysts, publishes the Hospital Standard Mortality Rates that helped to expose the Mid Staffordshire scandal and prompted investigations into a further 14 trusts. He said the data he had examined was as recent as February, but added that he had not be able to obtain the data the NHS says it relied on to make the suspension decision. "It ought to be in the public domain," he said.

His comments yesterday appeared to support to claims from doctors working at Leeds General who insist the data used by the NHS was incomplete. Elspeth Brown, a cardiologist, has repeatedly claimed the closure decision was based on incomplete information. Dr Brown complained that data showing "higher than expected" mortality rates failed to include one in three operations at the cardiac unit, which carries out about 400 operations on children a year.

The medical director of the NHS, Sir Bruce Keogh, provoked furious protests from campaigners last week, when he suspended heart surgery in the children's unit while a review is carried out. The announcement came a day after a High Court judge ruled the consultation over changes to children's heart surgery in England and Wales – which earmarked the Leeds unit for closure – was flawed.

Hospital chiefs said they hoped the internal review would be completed in three weeks. But the "pause" will leave dozens of sick children facing longer waits for vital treatment, and could ultimately mean they are forced to travel elsewhere for surgery.

Sir Bruce said the mortality figures, which came to light shortly after the court ruling, were among a "constellation of reasons" behind the decision. He said he had also received "disturbing" calls from two whistleblowers, and an "agitated senior cardiologist" who had preliminary data showing that the unit's mortality rates were considerably higher than at comparable centres.

Professor Sir Roger Boyle, director of the group overseeing mortality data across the health service, yesterday backed the closure decision, revealing that two "relatively junior surgeons" had been left in charge of the unit. "The background to this was that Leeds had already suspended one surgeon because of unacceptable mortality rates [and] the senior surgeon was away on holiday. That left two junior locum surgeons, relatively inexperienced, holding the fort," he said.

But Dr John Gibbs, chairman of the Central Cardiac Database, which produced the controversial figures used to justify the suspension, said the data was "not fit to be looked at by anyone outside the committee". "It was at a very preliminary stage, and we are at the start of a long process to make sure the data was right and the methodology was correct. We would be irresponsible if we didn't put in every effort to get the data right. It will cause untold damage for the future of audit results in this country. I think nobody will trust us again. It's dreadful."

Dr Brown, who is a consultant cardiologist at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said the unit must be allowed to resume children's heart surgery. She said: "We do now know that the figures that were presented... were simply wrong, they... did not include all the operations in Leeds, and they had then been subject to some statistical analysis which generated this headline figure. We've been looking very hard at the figures over the last three years and we are confident our mortality figures are well within what would be expected. All the clinicians in Leeds are very happy with our figures at present." She added: "We need... people to stop attacking us and we need to resume surgery as soon as possible."

Concerns about death rates at the hospital were first raised by the Children's Heart Federation two years ago. The Care Quality Commission reported there had been 20 unexpected deaths over the eight-year period to 2008.

But an NHS review which concluded the hospital should stop cardiac surgery – along with units in Leicester and London – to concentrate services at larger centres, sparked protests. More than 600,000 signed a petition calling on the Government to keep the Leeds unit open.

Suggested Topics
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
News
news
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Sport
SPORT
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

    Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

    Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

    Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

    Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

    Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

    Day In a Page

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick