Heart surgery

‘Unnecessary’ deaths caused by NHS investigation into heart surgery unit

Heart surgery patients in London have died ‘unnecessarily’ and are at increased risk of death as botched NHS investigations into dozens of deaths have reduced a hospital’s ability to treat people, a coroner has warned.

‘Unnecessary’ patient deaths have occurred following the restriction of heart surgery at St George’s University Hospital Trust and the diversion of ERs to other ‘overburdened’ hospitals, following investigations by national bodies of the NHS.

The warning that deaths have occurred and could occur in the future comes following the conclusion of a series of inquest hearings in March, in which it was found the NHS had wrongly blamed a team of heart surgeons for the deaths of dozens of patients.

Coroner Fiona Wilcox, in a report on Wednesday, has now said ‘inadequate’ investigations by the NHS, which criticized the care of 67 patients, had put people at increased risk of death.

This is the latest update in a long saga about the safety of heart surgery at St George’s Hospital, which has come under intense scrutiny since 2018 after reports indicated the unit had a “toxic environment”.

NHS inquests into the deaths of 67 patients concluded there were ‘gaps’ in care. This led to complex operations being diverted elsewhere and doctors being referred to the General Medical Council.

According to the coroner’s conclusions, the cardiac surgery capacity of the unit has decreased by 60% and the personnel are becoming “deskilled”.

Coroner Wilcox said that due to restrictions imposed on St George’s unit by the NHS, ’emergency patients diverted from St George’s Hospital have resulted in unnecessary deaths’.

She said public confidence in hospital heart surgery was ‘so chipped’ that patients were discouraged from going to hospital and thus increased their risk of death.

NHS surveys, called structured judgment reviews, were found to be based on “incomplete” evidence, without any discussion with the clinicians involved, and reviewed for only 10-20 minutes by the experts involved.

The report added: “Whether this [structured judgement review] The process has unnecessarily undermined the department, affecting the morale, mental health and confidence of cardiac surgeons and other clinicians and non-clinicians within St George’s Hospital, which may result in a lower quality of care for the patients.

The scathing warning added that the “unfounded” damage to the reputation of the trust’s heart surgery service would take “years” to repair, and that the families of the patients involved had suffered “immeasurable” pain.

The report says the NHS also failed to identify any issues from which lessons could have been learned and patient safety improved.

He warned that the NHS investigations had further undermined “public trust in the NHS, which the public may perceive as the NHS being unable to appropriately audit its own work”.

A spokesperson for St George said in a statement after the release: ‘We have fully implemented the recommendations of the Independent Mortality Review, which have helped to improve the quality, leadership and culture of the cardiac unit. The improvements we have made have led to better patient outcomes and mortality is also now in line with that expected nationally.

NHS England has been approached for comment.