• New associate medical director for heart surgery joins trust fighting to keep heart surgery service
  • Appointment comes after national regulator set up panel to oversee trust’s attempts to reform the unit
  • Trainees have been withdrawn and complex cases moved to other trusts

A London teaching trust has appointed a consultant to run the heart surgery service that, in June, it faced losing altogether.

Steven Livesey will join St George’s University Hospitals Foundation Trust for a year on secondment from University Hospital Southampton FT.

It emerged earlier this year the heart surgery unit’s mortality rate had risen beyond what would be expected for two years in a row, triggering a second consecutive alert from national heart surgery auditors.

Investigators reported animosity between members of the surgery team. The six surgeons were said to have divided into two factions and staff spoke of a “dark force” in the unit.

The trust tried to resolve this situation with external mediation. However, an independent review carried out last summer, and leaked to HSJ in July, showed the HR process had not resolved the deep seated issues.

The review, carried out by consultant Mike Bewick, said the trust would have to look at “radical solutions [including] breaking up the current surgical team”.

“The trust can, in our view, no longer delay as to do so would risk external intervention either closing or restricting the scope of work at the unit in response to ongoing concerns over persistently high mortality,” Dr Bewick’s review added.

Details of the troubled working environment within the trust’s heart surgery team, and between surgeons and management, came to light in the High Court in August.

A surgeon had been suspended earlier in the month for allegedly interfering in a second review of the surgery team, following on from the Bewick review. However, the surgeon, Marjan Jahangiri, told the court she had faced years of harassment and bullying, including receiving an anonymous package containing a dead animal and a decapitated doll.

The trust vigorously denied in court that Ms Jahangiri had been singled out for her ethnicity, gender or ability, or that she had been suspended because she was a whistleblower. However, the judge found the trust had acted incorrectly in suspending Ms Jahangiri and issued a temporary injunction, reinstating her while the trust concluded its disciplinary procedures against her.

In September, the trust asked NHS Improvement to set up an external team to oversee its efforts to turn around the surgery unit. A week later, it emerged St George’s had moved its most complex cases to other trusts, while Health Education England had withdrawn the trust’s four heart surgery trainees

The NHSI oversight panel endorsed Mr Livesey’s appointment, the trust said.

He will have clinical duties as well as taking on the role of associate medical director for cardiac surgery. He said, in a statement: “I am pleased to be joining St George’s and looking forward to playing my part in the improvement journey cardiac surgery at the trust is undergoing.”

Jacqueline Totterdell, chief executive of the trust, said the Bewick review “was very clear that we needed to make significant improvements to the service, whilst also appointing a senior and experienced clinician to lead the unit”. Mr Livesey’s “role will be a key part of our improvement journey,” she said.

Mr Livesey will start at the trust on 3 December, the same day Richard Jennings is due to join the trust’s board as chief medical officer. His previous appointment was as executive medical director at the Whittington Health Trust in north London.