Hospital absolved on heart deaths

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The Independent Online
THE UK'S leading specialist heart hospital was cleared yesterday of allegations that it was causing the deaths of too many children and discriminating against some patients.

An independent review of the Royal Brompton Hospital in London concluded that the death rate for children undergoing heart surgery was "similar to and in most cases better than" the average in other centres.

However, the panel of three heart specialists from other hospitals said communication with families and support groups should be improved. It called for a second panel to be set up under a lay chairman to look into complaints from parents.

Yesterday the Brompton trust announced that the new panel would be chaired by Ruth Evans, former director of the National Consumer Council, and would begin taking evidence from parents and patient groups in the next few weeks. It is expected to report in three months.

The findings were greeted with relief by surgeons, who found themselves under scrutiny after the Bristol heart children's scandal and the public inquiry into that now under way.

The Brompton investigation received wide publicity and alarmed patients. An inquiry was also announced this week into heart surgery results for two surgeons at King's College Hospital, London.

Barrie Jackson, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, said: "I believe that this investigation and the extensive coverage which accompanied it highlights the importance of not rushing to a judgement too hastily in any situation. The consequences of prejudging such situations can be devastating for the patients and clinicians concerned."

The Brompton review panel, chaired by Stewart Hunter, consultant paediatric cardiologist at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, was set up in June in response to anonymous allegations that surgeons at the hospital were getting poor results and discriminating against Down's syndrome children.

The report, covering the 1990 to 1999 period, found no evidence that Down's children were being denied treatment for heart conditions or that they suffered worse outcomes. It said four deaths of Down's children between April 1998 and June this year were a "blip" that could have given rise to the allegation that their death rate was higher, but this was not borne out by analysis of the statistics over the past 10 years.

Consultants at the hospital were also cleared of giving misleading information to patients when obtaining consent. But the report said the importance of the "consenting process" should be stressed to all staff, and called for better collection and review of surgical results.

The allegations were made in letters sent to the Private Eye medical columnist, Phil Hammond, and to Brian Langstaff, the barrister representing parents in the Bristol Royal Infirmary inquiry. The letters were passed to the Royal Brompton, triggering the investigation.

When details of the review emerged in July, parents of more than a dozen children operated on at the hospital came forward with complaints. Their concerns will now be dealt with by the second panel.