Families and clinicians on both sides of the controversy over the children’s heart unit at Leeds General Infirmary face a tense wait to see whether surgery will resume at the centre as expected this week.
Campaigners to retain children’s heart surgery at the hospital are watching to see whether experts will provide the endorsements needed for operations to restart.
Child heart surgery was suspended at the LGI more than a week ago after concerns were raised about death rates and other issues - a decision greeted with anger and suspicion by campaigners fighting to keep the children’s heart unit open.
The Leeds centre has been earmarked for permanent closure following a nationwide review of children’s cardiac services in England.
But the campaign group organised to fight that decision won a major victory in the High Court just a day before NHS England arrived in the city with concerns about the unit which forced the suspension of surgery.
On Friday, after a week of arguments and high-level meetings, an announcement was made that operations could be resumed early this week “subject to independent validation of the clinical data and an external review of clinical governance processes”.
Experts have been working through the weekend to provide the necessary endorsement but no statement has yet been made to confirm the resumption of normal services.
Surgery was suspended by the hospital just before Easter after an intervention by Sir Bruce Keogh, the medical director of NHS England.
Later, Sir Bruce said death rate figures were among a “constellation of reasons” the decision was made.
But medical bodies, doctors and other experts questioned the accuracy of the data used to support the suspension of surgery.
The decision to work towards restarting surgery early this week was reached at a risk summit convened between Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust, NHS England and other partners late on Thursday night.
An NHS England spokesman said data provided by the trust would need to be validated and reviewed by independent clinical experts and there would be a review to assess whether the services available in Leeds were of a standard consistent with other units across the country.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said that health secretary Jeremy Hunt would support a decision to reopen the unit if the original concerns had been addressed.
The suspension of surgery provoked a wave of debate culminating in some Leeds MPs calling for a high-level review of what happened over the last two weeks.
Greg Mulholland, Liberal Democrat MP for Leeds North West, said there had still been no proper explanation as to why the unit was closed and demanded those responsible were held to account.
Sharon Cheng, of the Save Our Surgery group, which leads the campaign to save children’s heart surgery at the LGI, said: “The last week’s investigations and discussions have indicated that standards at the unit are safe - we now wait for the final independent assurance so that we can move ahead.”
But the Children’s Heart Federation (CHF), which supported the suspension of operations in Leeds, said: “CHF supports the aim to reinstate surgery once all concerned in the subsequent investigations are fully satisfied that it is safe to do so. We trust that the investigation has been thorough, independent and not overly hasty.”