Top Oxford heart hospital is 'riven by clashing egos'

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One of the country's leading centres for heart surgery is "on its knees and riven by internal conflict" according to an independent inquiry published yesterday.

One of the country's leading centres for heart surgery is "on its knees and riven by internal conflict" according to an independent inquiry published yesterday.

The Oxford Heart Centre at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford has seen its international reputation as a "pinnacle of cardiac surgery" collapse owing to a lack of leadership, growing personal animosity between the surgeons, loss of confidence among the nursing staff and a culture of "complacency and secrecy."

The story told by the report, commissioned from independent heart surgery experts last March, carries a warning for the NHS about what some observers have described as "a clash of big egos". In the early 1990s, the two surgeons running the centre, Stephen Westaby and Ravi Pillai, were performing a remarkable 1,100 operations a year, far more than rival centres, and their achievement was widely admired. But as their relationship deteriorated and they began to function as two separate individuals, the centre's work rate dropped, nurses became disillusioned and concerns about patients safety surfaced.

The report said: "In four years, the annual number of adult open-heart operations carried out in Oxford dropped from over 1,400 to 800. In the past year alone, the number of operations cancelled on the day of admission has risen by over 20 per cent to 130 and looks to be getting worse. The consequence is a 30 per cent increase in the total numbers waiting," it says.

"At a time when cardiac centres throughout the country are gearing up for major expansion called for by the Government, the Oxford Heart Centre finds itself on its knees and riven by internal conflict."

The report, which makes 34 recommendations, says the surgeons must put aside their personal animosities and work together as a team or "the future for this specialty in Oxford is bleak." A second inquiry into allegations that junior staff were left unsupervised and staff had been harassed is still awaited.

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