By Jamie Smith
The head of Leeds hospitals has apologised to families of dying children who were met with a lack of comfort, sensitivity and professionalism at their time of greatest need at Leeds Children’s Heart Surgery Unit.
A report published today by NHS England highlights a number of severe errors at the unit between 2009 and 2013 as well as the painful experience of families affected.
It follows thirty five child deaths in four years and a one year closure partly due to multiple failures within the unit.
The closure was recommended over a year ago as part of a re-organisation of heart surgery in England, however the decision was reversed following a passionate campaign by Leeds locals and MPs who didn’t want suffering children traveling long distances for treatment.
Rachel Ling, whose daughter Georgie is a long term patient at the unit, said: “We and a lot of our friends were happy.
“For families who’ve lost children it can be devastating and one death is one too many, but the losses have to be put in perspective with the hundreds of families who have received really good care.”
Today’s report states that child fatalities weren’t significantly above expectations, however sixteen problematic cases were highlighted while child and family care were heavily criticised.
According to the report the parent of one child said: “We were going for a break and when we came back Sally was covered in vomit and blood and nurses had not been to see her.”
The report found a lack of “sensitivity, communication and sometimes basic kindness” among those working and making decisions in the unit.
It recommends severe changes to the system for delivering and looking after babies with heart problems as well as supporting their parents.
The parent of one of the casualties, a boy called Ryan, said that after her son died: “No one offered any comfort. No one asked how we were getting home.”
The parent of another casualty, called Aziz, said: “They did not understand our religious beliefs and requirements.”
There were few discussions about errors in care and parents were kept in the dark about options, whilst easy treatments like terminations were pushed on patients.
According to the report, one parent said: “There was no compassion. I cried. The doctor said that the recommendation was to have a termination.”
The hospital has also been told that its whistle blowing policy and patient safety record were not fit for purpose.
Julian Hartley, chief executive of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust said “We sincerely apologise to those families and will of course, ensure we learn from what they had to say and improve our services as a result of this.”
The recommendations in the report are being followed up.