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Future of child heart surgery at Leeds General Infirmary still in the balance, despite resumption reports

Confused statement is followed by news of an expert review of the data this weekend

The immediate future of children’s heart surgery at Leeds General Infirmary remains in the balance after being suspended over safety concerns last week.

A 10-hour “risk summit” attended by NHS England, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and the Care Quality Commission last night culminated in a confused statement issued at 1am today which led to reports yesterday that surgery would resume next week.

But officials later confirmed no decision to restart had yet been made, and any move to do so would depend on a close examination of the mortality data and checks by independent experts over the weekend.

However, the statement marked a change of tone in a bitter dispute, with all  the parties involved committing “to work together to restart surgery on the site early next week, subject to independent assurance of concerns raised”.

There was no explanation of where the independent assurance is being sought or whether it will be forthcoming. A source close to the discussions said that “if and when” surgery were restarted, it would be likely to be phased – with some operations resuming while others remained suspended, with patients referred elsewhere. There are 150 different child heart operations, with differing levels of difficulty. 

Critics of the Leeds unit said today the reprieve was “politically motivated” after announcement of the suspension provoked an outcry from local MPs. The unit’s defenders complained they were being denied a “level playing field”.

The drama began when Sir Bruce Keogh, the NHS medical director, ordered the suspension on 28 March based on preliminary data shown to him by Sir Roger Boyle, former Government heart czar and director of the National Institute for Clinical Outcomes Research, which suggested Leeds’ mortality rate was twice the national average. The decision came less than 24 hours after the High Court quashed a plan to close the Leeds unit permanently – prompting claims of conspiracy.

The Department of Health today defended Sir Bruce saying he had no option but to close temporarily the unit based on the new data and other information,

At the risk summit yesterday the trust presented its own data on outcomes which showed it in a more positive light. That data will be examined by experts from outside the hospital over the weekend.

One source said he remained doubtful about Leeds’ safety: “The latest data has not given me confidence. I am not confident it is right to reopen it. There are too many cooks, and I think they are succumbing to political pressure.”