NHS bosses at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust last night announced they were immediately suspending congenital heart surgery on youngsters at the unit, which is under threat of closure.
The action has been taken because of recently revealed mortality figures which it is understood have not been validated and which are being questioned by senior figures at the trust.
Maggie Boyle, chief executive of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said following discussions with NHS England and health watchdog the Care Quality Commission (CQC), they had agreed to start the internal review.
“We have taken the decision to temporarily pause children’s congenital cardiac surgery and associated interventions while this review is conducted, a process we would aim to complete in around three weeks,” she said.
“We apologise to parents and families who will be affected during this time, and can assure them we always put the safety of our patients first.”
The move comes days after a High Court judge ordered NHS bosses to look again at the decision to shut the Leeds unit after supporters won a legal challenge.
Campaigners have questioned the timing of the development.
Pudsey MP Stuart Andrew said: “What’s concerning me and what’s very frustrating is the timing of this is all very odd. A day after the court case it seems very convenient – I can’t see why this wasn’t presented to the judge.
“If there are serious concerns obviously they have got to be looked at... but never has it been said the surgery is unsafe there.”
Leeds City Council leader Coun Keith Wakefield said: “Many people will be deeply sceptical about these developments and the question has to be asked why the National Commissioning Board and the Care Quality Commission have raised these issues at this time.”
Sharon Cheng, from the Save Our Surgery campaign group, said: “We’re mystified. We don’t know of anything that could justify this step.”
Earlier this month the CQC said they were looking into allegations over an apparent reluctance to refer children from LGI to Newcastle, where sick youngsters from the region will go if their unit closes.
The LGI strongly denied “any suggestion that we would act improperly either by restricting referrals or by failing to carry out surgery where either of these actions was the right thing to do”.
NHS England said last night the suspension was for checks to be made to ensure the unit is operating safely.
Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director of NHS England, said: “The trust has taken a highly responsible precautionary step.
“Some questions have been raised by the trust’s own mortality data and by other information.
“It is important to understand that while this information raises questions, it does not give us answers. But it is absolutely right not to take any risks while these matters are being looked into.
“The priority must be the safety of children. I hope that Leeds will shortly be in a position to restart children’s heart surgery secure in the knowledge that everything is OK.”