Leeds General Infirmary suspends congenital heart surgery
A hospital at centre of a long-running row over the future of its children’s heart services tonight suspended all congenital cardiac surgery on youngsters. The temporary measure follows a number of claims relating to patient outcomes, and concerns about surgery standards.
Leeds General Infirmary said the measure was being taken to allow a internal review to take place.
Maggie Boyle, the chief executive of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: ‘Following discussions earlier today with senior representatives from NHS England and the Care Quality Commission the trust has agreed to carry out an internal review, independently validated and supported by external experts.
‘This will look at all aspects of congenital cardiac surgery for children undertaken at the unit in Leeds.
‘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.’
Ms Boyle 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.
‘It is really important to us that the review is done as speedily and comprehensively as possible which, of course, we hope will show the services in Leeds to be safe. We are confident in the quality of the care provided by our staff and hope they will bear with us during this difficult time.
‘Families whose surgery may be affected during this time are being contacted directly by the trust.’
A vigorous campaign has been ongoing to save children’s heart surgery at the LGI after the unit was earmarked for closure as part of an NHS plan to re-organise services across England into fewer, more specialised centres.
Yesterday, Leeds campaigners were celebrating when a High Court judge quashed part of the NHS consultation process which led to the re-organisation, effectively halting the plan.
Earlier this month, the CQC confirmed it had received claims that the uncertainty over the future of children’s heart surgery at the LGI was harming outcomes because of a reluctance to refer some patients to the Freeman Hospital, in Newcastle.
The Freeman Hospital’s unit would be spared if the original NHS re-organisation plan continues.
The LGI strongly refuted ‘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’.
Tonight Sharon Cheng, from Save Our Surgery – the group which is co-ordinating the fight to keep children’s heart surgery in Leeds – said: ‘We’re mystified. We don’t know of anything that could justify this step.’
The decision to sacrifice the unit in Leeds was taken last July by the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts (JCPCT) when it selected seven specialist centres for the future delivery of paediatric cardiac surgery in England.
The controversial decision, if it stands, means the closure of the unit at the LGI as well as Glenfield Hospital in Leicester and London’s Royal Brompton.
Yesterday, Mrs Justice Nicola Davies allowed a challenge against the Leeds unit closure and declared the decision-making process “legally flawed”. She said there had been “a fundamental unfairness” in the consultation process.
NHS England said the suspension was for checks to be made to ensure the unit is operating safely.
Sir Bruce Keogh, the 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 okay.’
Doctors: Halt NHS hotline now… three days before launch of new phone service, BMA makes last-minute plea to prevent ‘chaos’ costing patients’ lives
Doctors demanded last night that a new health helpline due to be introduced across most of England within days should be suspended, warning that lives could be at risk.
The British Medical Association wrote to the head of the NHS, Sir David Nicholson, urging him to delay Monday’s full national roll-out of the 111 service.
Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the BMA’s GP Committee, said: ‘We cannot sacrifice patient safety to meet a political deadline.’
Earlier this week the Mail reported fears about the state of the service, but by last night doctors and health unions were convinced it would be a ‘chaotic mess’.
Some patients using limited 111 pilot schemes are already waiting several hours for urgent medical advice, while others have been told to phone back the following day because there is no one available to talk to them.
A parent of a sick baby was told by a 111 worker: ‘I don’t know what to do.’
From Monday, the 111 line will replace NHS Direct and GP out-of-hours numbers across most of England.
Patients who are not ill enough to need an ambulance will be told to ring the free number for medical advice round the clock.
But pilot schemes have thrown up a string of problems ranging from computer crashes to ambulances being sent out needlessly.
Dr Buckman said: ‘There have been widespread reports of patients being unable to get through to an operator or waiting hours before getting a call back with the health information they have requested.
In some areas, such as Greater Manchester, NHS 111 effectively crashed because it was unable to cope with the number of calls it was receiving.
‘The chaotic mess now afflicting NHS 111 is not only placing strain on other already overstretched parts of the NHS, such as the ambulance service, but is potentially placing patients at risk.
‘If someone calls NHS 111 they need immediate, sound advice and not be faced with any form of delay.
When patients rang the number in Greater Manchester this week they were played an automated message which told them to ring back the following day ‘‘when lines are less busy’’.’
In Wiltshire, where the line was introduced earlier this month, call handlers have been sending ambulances to people with hiccups, sore throats and earache.
There are concerns that calls are being handled by staff with just ten days training who read out a series of set questions from their computer.
Dr John Hughes, a GP in Crumpsall, near Manchester, said: ‘I am extremely worried. Within less than 11 hours the service was in meltdown. Calls weren’t being answered for hours, patients were having to ring up 999 ambulances.
‘These are non-clinically trained people. They work their way through a computer system which directs them to the next question to ask.
‘This is an extremely slow system and in some areas the computers weren’t even working and they had to do it on paper.
‘It really can’t go live on Monday because patients’ lives will be at risk. I have had reports of a 90-year-old lady having to wait more than an hour and a half for an urgent call.’
NHS Direct was launched in 1998 to provide medical advice round the clock in an attempt to reduce the number of patients needlessly turning up in A&E. On the whole it is deemed to have been a success although it has occasionally been overstretched during flu and norovirus outbreaks.
Now NHS bosses believe that dismantling it and merging it with out-of-hours telephone services for GP surgeries will make it easier for patients to get medical help particularly at evenings and weekends.
They will be put through to a call centre worker who will decide if they need to go to A&E, a GP clinic, a chemist or can get by with over-the-phone advice.
The operator can potentially send out an ambulance, put someone straight through to a nurse, book an out-of-hours GP appointment, or direct the caller to a pharmacist or dentist.
In some areas of the country the new service will be run by private firms while in others it will be overseen by NHS ambulance services.
But the BMA has also warned that the service is being ‘run on the cheap’ with far higher proportions of untrained workers than nurses.
While nurses represented around 36 per cent of staff at NHS Direct, they only comprise around 17 per cent of the NHS 111 workforce.
The union Unison claims that 400 nurses who worked for NHS Direct have been made redundant as there were not enough 111 jobs available.
Some regions are struggling to set up the new service and the NHS Direct 0845 4647 service will continue to be available to callers in these areas.
A spokesman for NHS England, the new body in charge of the health service, said: ‘The service has great potential to be a fast, efficient, all-round service that ensures patients get the right care for their needs.
‘This is a very important service for the public and we will make sure everything is in place to make a safe, high quality service that patients and the public can trust.’
Investigation launched after British teachers hand a special needs student razor blades so they could self-harm ‘safely’
Teachers were ordered to hand razor blades to a vulnerable youngster as part of a controversial ‘controlled self-harm’ policy at a specialist school, it has emerged.
An investigation is underway after a child at Unsted Park School – which offers education to boys and girls aged between seven and 19 years who have Asperger’s Syndrome and higher-functioning autism – was given access to blade kits.
Staff were told to give the pupil access to the sterilised disposable razor and sterile wipes and escort the child to a bathroom where they would be allowed to self-harm in a ‘safe and controlled manner’.
Teachers were ordered to wait outside the bathroom while the child was inside, checking on them every two minutes, before the wounds were dressed and cleaned by staff.
The policy was introduced and abandoned within six days at the school in Munstead Park, Godalming, Surrey, and is understood to have sparked protests from staff.
Principal Steve Dempsey and headteacher Laura Blair now face the possibility of being hauled before a Teaching Agency hearing over allegations of unacceptable professional conduct in connection with the policy.
Members of school staff are understood to have raised fears with Surrey County Council’s Local Authority Designated Officer over the procedure.
Following the Teaching Agency investigation, a panel from the regulator will decide whether any further action will be taken.
The regulator could decide to refer the case to a professional conduct panel.
A spokesman for the Priory Group, responsible for running the school, said: ‘We are always willing to review cases with the Teaching Agency.
‘This was a short-term, local procedure introduced by the headteacher and school principal who genuinely believed it was in the best interests of the pupil.
‘However, they accept that the procedure should not have been implemented without further approvals having been obtained from key stakeholders and senior management prior to its introduction.’
It is believed the pupil’s parents were aware of the policy.
Unsted School was ranked good with outstanding features in its last Ofsted inspection, published in February.
The report stated: ‘There are robust risk assessments and health and safety processes which protect young people from harm.
‘The behaviour management system at the school is outstanding. Boarders have individual behaviour plans which operate on a traffic light system and clearly identify triggers and strategies for addressing these.
‘They also include work with the boarders on them developing the skills to control their own behaviour.’
A spokesman for the Teaching Agency said they were unable to comment on ongoing investigations.
A Surrey Police spokesman said the force was made aware of the policy in January 2012 by Social Services.
The spokesman said: ‘A senior strategy meeting, which was attended by Surrey Police, was held on January 19, 2012, to ensure that safeguarding practices were put in place. This was done to ensure that the practice did not continue at the school and was not put into practice at any other school.
‘Surrey Police has thoroughly reviewed the matter and is satisfied that there are no criminal offences to investigate.’
It’s the cold, not global warming, that we should be worried about
No one seems upset that in modern Britain, old people are freezing to death as hidden taxes make fuel more expensive
A few months ago, a group of students in Oslo produced a brilliant spoof video that lampooned the charity pop song genre. It showed a group of young Africans coming together to raise money for those of us freezing in the north. “A lot of people aren’t aware of what’s going on there right now,” says the African equivalent of Bob Geldof. “People don’t ignore starving people, so why should we ignore cold people? Frostbite kills too. Africa: we need to make a difference.” The song – Africa for Norway – has been watched online two million times, making it one of Europe’s most popular political videos.
The aim was to send up the patronising, cliched way in which the West views Africa. Norway can afford to make the joke because there, people don’t tend to die of the cold. In Britain, we still do. Each year, an official estimate is made of the “excess winter mortality” – that is, the number of people dying of cold-related illnesses. Last winter was relatively mild, and still 24,000 perished. The indications are that this winter, which has dragged on so long and with such brutality, will claim 30,000 lives, making it one of the biggest killers in the country. And still, no one seems upset.
Somewhere between the release of the 1984 Band Aid single and Al Gore’s 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth, political attention shifted away from such problems. The idea of people (especially old people) dying in their homes from conditions with which we are all familiar now seems relatively boring. Much political attention is still focused on global warming, and while schemes to help Britain prepare for the cold are being cut, the overseas aid budget is being vastly expanded. Saving elderly British lives has somehow become the least fashionable cause in politics.
The reaction to the 2003 heatwave was extraordinary. It was blamed for 2,000 deaths, and taken as a warning that Britain was horribly unprepared for the coming era of snowless winters and barbecue summers. The government’s chief scientific officer, Sir David King, later declared that climate change was “more serious even than the threat of terrorism” in terms of the number of lives that could be lost. Such language is never used about the cold, which kills at least 10 times as many people every winter. Before long, every political party had signed up to the green agenda.
Since Sir David’s exhortations, some 250,000 Brits have died from the cold, and 10,000 from the heat. It is horribly clear that we have been focusing on the wrong enemy. Instead of making sure energy was affordable, ministers have been trying to make it more expensive, with carbon price floors and emissions trading schemes. Fuel prices have doubled over seven years, forcing millions to choose between heat and food – and government has found itself a major part of the problem.
This is slowly beginning to dawn on Ed Davey, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. He has tried to point the finger at energy companies, but his own department let the truth slip out in the small print of a report released on Wednesday. The average annual fuel bill is expected to have risen by £76 by 2020, it says. But take out Davey’s hidden taxes (carbon price floor, emissions trading scheme, etc) and we’d be paying an average £123 less. His department has been trying to make homes cheaper to heat, and in a saner world this would be his only remit: to secure not the greenest energy, but the most affordable energy.
By now, the Energy Secretary will also have realised another inconvenient truth – that, for Britain, global warming is likely to save far more lives then it threatens. Delve deep enough into the Government’s forecasts, and they speculate that global warming will lead to 6,000 fewer deaths a year, on average, by the end of the decade. This is the supposed threat facing us: children would be less likely to have snow to play in at Christmas, but more likely to have grandparents to visit over Easter. Not a bad trade-off. The greatest uncertainty is whether global warming, which has stalled since 1998, will arrive quickly enough to make a difference.
It’s daft to draw any conclusions from this freakish, frozen spring. But in general, the computer-generated predictions do not seem as reliable as they did when Al Gore was using them to scare the bejesus out of us. A few weeks ago, scientists at the University of Washington found that man’s contribution to global warming may have been exaggerated – by a factor of two. The natural cycle of heating and cooling, they discovered, plays a far bigger role than they had imagined. Mr Davey’s fuel bill taxes may do nothing for the planet. But they will certainly lead to poorer, colder homes and shorter lives.
Our understanding of climate science may be weak, but our understanding of basic medicine is not. Low temperatures increase blood pressure and weaken the immune system, making everyone more vulnerable to bugs. For the elderly, this can be fatal. People don’t actually die of frostbite, as the Norwegian video teasingly suggested. They die of flu, or thrombosis, or other conditions they would not have acquired if their house had been warmer. Far fewer Scandinavians die in winter, because they have worked out how to defeat the cold: keep the heating on; insulate houses. It really is that simple.
So what’s stopping us? For years, various government schemes have sought to insulate lofts or upgrade boilers, but nowhere near quickly enough. When MPs looked into this three years ago, they heard from a Mr P of Cornwall. “The offer of a boiler is very much appreciated,” he said. “We hope that we will still be alive when we get the visit about the end of February.” With someone dying of the cold every seven minutes during winter, that may not have been a joke. The modest insulation scheme has been hit by cuts, while the mammoth winter fuel payment scheme continues untouched. The word “fuel” is, of course, redundant: it’s a simple bung, paid to all pensioners – who are more likely to vote.
I once drank a winter fuel allowance. It had been paid to a self-made millionaire who was appalled that people like him were being written a cheque, and he had used it to buy a magnum of claret in protest. He was a major philanthropist, but wanted to make the point to his lunch guests: the winter fuel payment is a scandal, whose very existence suggests that government is not serious about helping people make it through winter.
No one would wear a wristband or pin on a ribbon for the elderly victims of the cold – and yet freezing weather kills more than diabetes or breast cancer. The cause of death is perhaps too familiar, and the remedy too obvious, to attract much attention. If the money for winter fuel payments was instead used to help insulate homes, we might – like Norway – be able to joke about winter. As things stand, dying of the cold remains a horribly British disease.
Crackdown on ‘education tourists’ to target illegal immigrant children as Swedish PM slams Cameron’s attempts to curb UK’s soft touch image
Children of illegal immigrants would be banned from schools under plans drawn up for ministers to curb the impact of ‘education tourists’.
The idea was put forward by officials told to find ways to limit migrants’ access to benefits, housing, and the NHS but has been blocked by ministers.
But David Cameron’s pledge to end the global perception of Britain being a ‘soft touch’ have been slammed as ‘unfortunate’ by Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.
Mr Cameron used a major speech on immigration this week to say the government would make it harder for new arrivals to Britain to claim out-of-work benefits, jump the queue for social housing or get free treatment on the NHS. But it has emerged officials have begun examining how to limit access to free education for children who are in the country illegally.
It is estimated that there could be 120,000 children in the UK without legal immigration status. One plan would require headteachers to check the immigration status of pupils before admitting them to lessons.
The idea has been put forward in a series of emails sent by officials advising the inter-ministerial group on migrants’ access to benefits and public services, The Guardian reported.
The group includes schools minister David Laws and immigration minister Mark Harper.
A proposal to ban illegal immigrant children from schools was suggested, but there are warnings it could contravene the UN convention on the rights of the child. Mr Laws is said to consider the idea a ‘red line’.
One email sent by a civil servant on Monday said: ‘Barring children, whatever their migrant status, from compulsory education has pretty much been ruled out by ministers and at the moment is off the table for cross-government discussions.
‘The question now is whether, if not to enforce a ban, it would nevertheless be helpful to carry out migrant status checks as part of school admissions.’
Another email suggested ‘strategies could probably be employed to deal with “education tourists”, in much the same [way] as “health tourists” are managed’.
The plan was revealed by Labour MP John McDonnell who accused minister of being ‘diverted to policy stunts prepared for prime ministerial statements and speeches’ instead of focussing on practical ways to tackle immigration.
He told the Commons that ‘ministerial attention has recently been focused on discussions in the inter-ministerial group on barring migrant children from compulsory education’.
He said the Department for Education then intervened and the children’s rights adviser said: ‘If we were to withdraw the right of education from any children in the UK, regardless of their status, we would be hugely criticised for it by the UN.
‘With the periodic review report due to be submitted in January 2014, this would be very controversial.’
Home Secretary Theresa May played down the idea of banning children outright. She said: ‘We have been looking at public services across the board in relation to what we describe as the pull factors.
‘We have focused on housing, health and the benefits system. We do not propose not having the provision of education for individual children.’
But she rejected the claim that the government’s policy changes were about publicity stunts. ‘We have been sorting out a chaotic immigration system and immigration policy introduced by the previous Government that led to net migration in this country reaching hundreds of thousands a year.
‘We aim to bring it down to tens of thousands. We have already seen net migration cut by a third. That is not a publicity stunt; it is a real benefit and a policy that the people of this country want to see.’
The move to consider targeting illegal immigrant children was condemned by Lesley Gannon, head of policy at the National Association of Headteachers.
She said: ‘You can’t hold children responsible for the behaviours of their parents, it’s simply not fair.
‘All of our codes of practice around admissions, behaviour and exclusions have always emphasised that you deal with the child and not the parents in terms of their access to education and their treatment within the school. We wouldn’t want to see anything jeopardise that.
‘It’s also really worrying to start to drag schools into politics in this way. Yes, we are public servants, part of the state, but once you put that process in place, I’d suggest you’re encouraging parents who are worried about their immigration status to avoid putting their children into school, to avoid detection. That puts the educational rights of that child at risk.’
Mr Cameron’s speech on Monday focussed on benefits and housing, but was criticised for lacking detail and targeting relatively small numbers of people.
He promised that new EU migrants will be stripped of jobless benefits after six months, but critics said existing rules meant this effectively already happened.
The PM said net migration needs to ‘come down radically’ after getting ‘badly out of control’ under Labour.
He also unveiled a crackdown on so-called health tourism, with hospitals ordered to start charging foreign visitors. Those from outside the EU will need health insurance before being granted a visa.
There will be a major shake-up of council housing rules designed to keep immigrant families off waiting lists for at least two years and possibly as many as five.
But the speech was criticised by the Swedish Prime Minister. Mr Reinfeldt said: ‘I think it’s unfortunate. I believe in a Europe that should be open, where we have free movement, and where we instead ask ourselves how people who come here can get work more easily.’
Lesbian British Policewoman responsible for the death of an innocent Brazilian electrician now harassing journalists
The officer in charge of Scotland Yard’s inquiries in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal has been forced to defend her force’s tactics.
Questions have been raised over the scope of Operation Elveden, the multi-million pound criminal inquiry into alleged bribes paid by journalists to public officials, after it targeted police officers who have `leaked’ information with no payment involved.
Those concerns follow mounting controversy over the dawn arrests of journalists – including an ex-editor who was seven months pregnant – and reporters left facing many months before discovering whether they will face charges.
The arrests have also prompted fears, after the Leveson inquiry, that informal contact between police officers and the Press is being outlawed.
Now Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick has written to the Society of Editors justifying the Met’s investigations and methods.
In her unsolicited letter explaining the Elveden operation she insists: `The investigations being carried out do not mean that the Met wants or intends to stop officers talking to journalists.’
Defending the much-criticised `7am door knocks’, Miss Dick says there are `sound operational reasons for the times of day we elect to arrest people’.
Miss Dick said there was `genuine concern’ by police over the time those arrested have been on bail but said there have been `millions of emails, documentation, complex communications data and trails of financial transactions that require painstaking analysis’.
She concluded: `An unintended and, I hope, short-term consequence of this may be a negative effect on relations between police and journalists.
`This is unfortunate but in no way undermines the value the Metropolitan Police Service puts on the role of a free and investigative Press in a democratic society – indeed this investigation is the result of such journalism. We want open, professional and trusting relationships between our officers and journalists.’
Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said: `While I am glad she has recognised the need to give an explanation, areas of concern remain.
`We should all recognise that the police sometimes have a difficult job to do, but early-morning knocks on the doors of journalists still require some justification.’