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Beleaguered managers at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire trust were under fire again this week when figures were published showing excess deaths following heart bypass operations.

Statistics released by independent consultants Dr Foster on Monday showed the trust to have the highest standardised mortality ratio for heart bypass surgery of 29 surveyed.

Compared to a national average of 100 - where a figure above 100 indicates a higher death rate - the trust's Walsgrave Hospital had the highest score of 182.

But the Society of Cardiothoracic Surgeons responded to the data by pointing out that detailed analysis of Walsgrave's data showed that, following changes by the surgeons, their outcomes had improved and are now 'entirely consistent with overall UK results'.

Meanwhile, one of the hospital's former consultants has come to the defence of the trust's managers, including chief executive David Loughton, who has been under pressure to resign since publication of a damning review by the Commission for Health Improvement.

That pressure has heightened since the trust was given a no-star rating in September, and Mr Loughton has until Christmas to demonstrate that he is turning round the trust.

Dr Ron Parker, who retired last month, made his comments following publication of the trust's CHI action plan. He said CHI's conclusions were 'very unfair' because excessive credence had been given by 'inexperienced' CHI staff to the views of disgruntled doctors.'There was no chief executive on the panel, which is important when you're trying to understand the pressures managers are dealing with. And I think during the interviews. . . their questions were not probing enough. It meant their conclusions were distorted by a small but very vociferous group of consultants.'

He added that some doctors were upset by Mr Loughton's style: 'He is fairly blunt.'

CHI medical director Linda Patterson said: 'We have every confidence in the review team that worked on the review and we entirely refute the claim that they were inexperienced.

'We also have every confidence in the evidence. Like all of our evidence, it does not appear in the report unless it has been triangulated - confirmed by a least three different sources of evidence.'

CHI criticism that there was a culture of bullying at the trust were also supported by external organisations, she added.

The action plan promises regular checks to ensure care in dealing effectively with the trust's high death rates for non-emergency admission, and a re-examination of the organisation of care between the two accident and emergency departments and the emergency admissions unit. An investigation has already begun at the trust into the relationship breakdown between managers and consultants.