Hospital Suspends Heart Surgery Program

An alarming story is coming out of Great Britain today, where all pediatric heart surgery at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford has been suspended after the deaths of four children in three months.

All four of the children had Congenital Heart Defects and had been receiving care for some time before their operations. With the unusually high number of deaths, officials at Radcliffe decided to stop everything and review their procedures. The shutdown has affected twenty-six children awaiting surgery, but all are being transferred.

When something like this happens, it is a good idea to review procedures and try to learn if the problem is arising locally. The Health Secretary is obviously concerned, but also notes that heart surgery is “high-risk”. Heart surgery is an exacting science; there is little (if any) room for error…. which is why the President of the Society of Cardiothoracic Surgery has been concerned about the number of specialized surgical units.

“There are 25 to 30 surgeons involved in the whole country. We feel they are spread too thinly across those units. Everyone is working hard to provide a good quality of care but we don’t think it is sustainable.”

While it is quite possible to just have “a run of bad luck” (try explaining that to grieving parents) could overworked surgeons be the root cause of the problem? Or is it a local issue? Radcliffe Hospital has had problems before – an investigation in 2005 found that the death rate after a coronary artery bypass graft was “higher than expected” and there have been previous concerns.

Hopefully this time the investigators will be able to remedy the problem.

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