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The Bristol heart babies Thursday, 4 November, 1999, 10:46 GMT
Tragedy of the heart op babies
coffins
Parents campaigned for a public inquiry
The public inquiry into surgery at Bristol Royal Infirmary has heard that out of 95 babies who died over seven years at the hospital, 34 could have survived if operated on elsewhere.

The Bristol Heart Babies
The death rate for children having open heart surgery at the hospital was double that at other units in England.

Analysts compared the performance of Bristol's paediatric heart unit with 11 other specialist centres in England - and described it as "significantly different".

Death rates at the hospital were the worst in the country for every operation between 1988 and 1995, the period being examined at the inquiry.

They were worst for the youngest age group - those under 90 days.

However, there was no significant difference in the figures for closed heart procedures.

Results of the audits, carried out by cardiac and statistical experts, were presented to help the panel examine claims from the surgeons at the centre of the scandal that acceptable overall death rates had been marred by a "cluster" of unsuccessful operations.

Harefield Hospital in London - another specialist unit that has been under scrutiny for its performance in complex heart operations - was also criticised.

It was singled out as below par, and the analysts are expected to provide more details of an "excess" of deaths among children over one year old later on in the proceedings.

The hospital has ordered an independent review of its performance in response to the findings.

'Truly shocking'

Mervyn Fudge, solicitor for the Bristol Heart Children's Action Group which represents 300 families, said the figures were "truly shocking".

"It comes as no surprise as we have always maintained that there was a significant problem in Bristol," he said.

"It certainly vindicates the stance taken by the action group in campaigning for this inquiry.

"There are a number of operations where the results are truly shocking. For many of the parents in the group these will be very upsetting because their children fall into categories where the results are worse.

"We will now go on to uncover who and why so that these statistics can come to life."

'Part of the picture'

However Brian Langstaff QC - chief counsel for the inquiry - said statistics were only one part of the jigsaw the inquiry was trying to complete.

"The figures alone can never say whether they represent an adequate state of affairs or not," he said.

"They can only be part of a picture. They can suggest an explanation is called for. They cannot explain."

And he said there was no cause for alarm over the Harefield figures.

"The difference might not be real and some difference is inevitable," he said.

"It would be unduly alarmist to conclude that Harefield was a poor hospital or to suggest that this inquiry had uncovered something that had not been appreciated to an extent before."

Mark Taylor, chief executive of the hospital, said: "If the figures are correct, the higher mortality rate at Harefield during this time was almost certainly partly due to the fact that the Harefield team accepted children for treatment who were more profoundly sick, some of whom had been turned down by other hospitals.

"All the children undergoing these complex surgical procedures were very ill and many would have died without surgery."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Audio
The BBC's Niall Dickson: "You have to look at these figures with caution"
Video
BBC News' Karen Allen: "Open heart operation death rates for children were twice those of other specialist hospitals"
Video
The BBC's Fergus Walsh: "The sheer scale of the tragedy here is becoming clear"
See also:

18 Oct 99 | The Bristol heart babies
19 Oct 99 | The Bristol heart babies
19 Oct 99 | The Bristol heart babies
01 Nov 99 | The Bristol heart babies
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