NHS England and Cardiothoracic Society comment on safety of children’s heart surgery at Bristol Children’s Hospital

NHS England and the Society for Cardiothoracic Surgery today commented on the current safety of children’s heart surgery at Bristol Children’s Hospital.

It follows last week’s meeting between Sir Bruce Keogh and families of children who died at the hospital, where it was agreed that there should be an independent review, chaired by Sir Ian Kennedy (please see quote from Sir Bruce Keogh on 14 February below).

Sir Bruce, NHS England’s National Medical Director, said: “For those parents currently taking their children to Bristol, I think it is important to address the question of whether there are urgent safety issues that require immediate action.

“Firstly, I want to be clear that I would not have hesitated to take more immediate action if I thought that was the right thing to do. I also want to be clear that children’s heart surgery is highly complex and technically demanding and, in some instances, carries with it significant and unavoidable risk.

“We have examined in detail all the data on mortality following surgery that is available from the National Institute for Cardiovascular Outcomes Research (NICOR) and the evidence is that the Trust is consistently in the middle of the pack compared with other units.

“I have of course also heard, loudly and clearly, the serious concerns of the families.  These require forensic and effective investigation and the independent review should do that.  We will of course keep in close contact with the review so we can respond quickly to the findings.

“As part of all this, I have asked myself the question that perhaps matters most: would I allow my child to go in today?  The answer is ‘yes’ I would.

“I am pleased that the usual NHS oversight bodies – the Care Quality Commission, Monitor, NHS England’s Area Team – will meet to reflect on whether there is anything else that needs to be considered.  They will take further action in the light of what the parents tell us.”

James Roxburgh, the President of the Society of Cardiothoracic Surgery, added: “Our job is to put patients first and ensure surgery is of the highest quality.  In terms of immediate safety, the work done by NICOR is world leading and we believe the public should have confidence in what it tells us – in this case, that the mortality rate is normal for the types of operations performed in Bristol.

“The families have raised very serious concerns.  These must be investigated and we fully support the robust, patient-centred process that Sir Bruce has put in place to ensure this happens.  We hope this is the first staging post on a journey to greater confidence.

“While this important process takes its course, we must also remember that patients are being operated on and surgeons are carrying out very complex procedures.  We must ensure that we support the surgeons and all those looking after patients to ensure safety and stability of the unit.”

Quote from Sir Bruce Keogh following his meeting with parents on 14th February

Sir Bruce Keogh, Medical Director of NHS England, said: “We have today had a very important meeting with the families of children who died at Bristol.

“My Deputy Medical Director Mike Bewick and I have listened with great care to their concerns about the care their children received.

“I would like to thank them for the dignified and powerful way they have talked to us.

“We collectively concluded that the most effective course of action might be to put in place an independent review of the care at the Trust’s paediatric cardiac unit.

“It was clear that, in the interests of everyone, such a review would need to be independent of the NHS. It must be led by the families involved.  It must be their review.

“I have already taken soundings from Sir Ian Kennedy who has agreed in principle to take such a review forward should the families wish him to do. I will now ask Sir Ian to meet the families and to work with them to see if they can come to the scope and terms of reference that the families want.”