Hospital angry at deaths claims

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The Independent Online
ONE OF Britain's top heart-transplant hospitals reacted angrily yesterday to claims that it was being investigated over allegations of high death rates among child patients.

The Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Trust admitted that an investigation had been set up following an anonymous complaint about survival rates. But it said claims of an inquiry on the scale of that which examined 29 deaths at Bristol Royal Infirmary were "fallacious".

Despite the hospital trust's defence of its record, Frank Dobson, the Secretary of State for Health, insisted the inquiry would be allowed to run its course. By last night, campaigning parents in Bristol had set up a hotline to give advice to anxious mothers and fathers whose children had been treated at Brompton and Harefield hospitals.

A newspaper yesterday claimed that the heart-transplant unit run by the renowned surgeon Sir Magdi Yacoub was being investigated after allegations of high death rates among children. In reality, an anonymous complaint had been made against a named surgeon and only Brompton, in west London, was involved; Sir Magdi works at Harefield, Middlesex.

Jonathan Street, the trust's spokesman, said: "This is a really hyped- up story. Implying that this is another Bristol is, frankly, fallacious.

"We have had one complaint from one individual alleging, principally, inappropriate attitudes from one doctor towards patients with Down's syndrome. At the same time, the complainant did allege that outcome results at Brompton in the paediatric department were not as good as they should be. Frankly, we find that hard to believe but we are investigating it, as we should if someone makes that kind of allegation.

"To drag Magdi Yacoub's name into it is appalling. The complaint isn't about him; his paediatric work is at Harefield, where he does heart transplants - they don't do heart transplants at Brompton - but, of course, he's a big name, so its, `Let's try and drag him [into the story]'."

Mr Street confirmed that two senior paediatric cardiologists - Stewart Hunter, of Newcastle,and Mike Godman, of Edinburgh - were conducting an inquiry. It stemmed from a "brown envelope" sent anonymously to three addresses: Brian Langstaff QC, who led the legal team in the Bristol inquiry, the satirical magazine Private Eye, and the Royal College of Surgeons.

"Our actual figures for heart transplants in children is 80 per cent survival rate after one year and 65 per cent after 10 years," Mr Street said. "That is based on the total patient population that has been through Harefield for heart transplants since 1984, when the programme began. The survival rate now is higher. Why they should drag Harefield into it, I don't know.

"The allegation relates solely to Brompton paediatric department and to a doctor at the Brompton in respect of... attitude towards Down's syndrome patients."

Mr Street said the "inappropriate behaviour" related to the doctor's attitude toward the patient rather than any clinical judgements over treatment.

Mr Dobson said: "I think before anybody jumps to any conclusions they should await the outcome of these investigations. This is being looked into promptly and it will be looked into thoroughly and I have to say I hope that it will show that the standards are very high there."

The Bristol Heart Children Action Group, comprising parents of paediatric heart patients treated at Bristol, set up a phoneline (07977 046466) yesterday for anxious Brompton parents to call.

Michael Willis, who chairs the group, said: "The families involved at Royal Brompton will need every bit of support they can get.

"If there is a problem with the figures at Royal Brompton, you have to wonder why someone hasn't said so before now, after all the publicity over Bristol and length of time it has been in the public eye."

The Bristol inquiry was set up after an anaesthetist voiced concern over success rates. It is expected to report in mid to late 2000.