Mortality figures which led to children’s congenital heart surgery being suspended at Leeds General Infirmary were “not fit to be used”, a senior doctor claimed yesterday.
The hospital, which is at the centre of a long-running row over the future of its children’s heart services, is carrying out an internal review after data suggested a death rate twice the national average.
Sir Bruce Keogh, the medical director of NHS England, said the figures were among a “constellation of reasons” to suspend operations, along with “disturbing” calls he received from two whistleblowers.
Campaigners criticised the decision and its timing, 24 hours after a High Court judge ruled the decision-making process to close the children’s unit was “legally flawed”.
Dr John Gibbs, chairman of the steering committee for the Central Cardiology Audit Database (CCAD), which supplied the information on which the decision was based, said the mortality figures were preliminary and had not undergone the “usual rigorous checking process”.
He said: “I’m absolutely furious. This data was not fit to be looked at by anyone outside the committee.
“It was at a very preliminary stage and we are at the start of a long process to make sure the data was right and the methodology was correct.”
Dr Gibbs said the “ground-breaking” study involved complex analysis which would require at least two months to validate. A problem had already been identified with the figures, he added, with some data being incorrectly discounted from results.
The decision to suspend surgery was made on Thursday following meetings between senior officials at NHS England and the Care Quality Commission, as well as bosses from Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.
Sir Bruce admitted the timing of the suspension looked “suspicious”, coming a day after the High Court quashed plans to close the unit.
He said: “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.”
Sir Bruce told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday: “There have been rumblings in the cardiac surgical community for some time that all was not well in Leeds.
“On Tuesday, I had two phone calls which I found disturbing, both from highly respected, temperate surgeons who commenced the conversations by saying they had to speak out.”
One raised concerns about the referrals process at the hospital and the other spoke to him about staffing levels, Sir Bruce said. He added: “I couldn’t do nothing.”
Greg Mulholland, MP for Leeds North West, said he was “stunned and appalled” by the suspension and called for Sir Bruce to resign.
In a statement on his website, Mr Mulholland said: “To have arrived in Leeds and done this, without warning, just one day after the decision to close the Leeds unit was proved in a court of law to have been unlawful, beggars belief.”