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Heart hospital gets all-clear over deaths


21 November, 2007  

A leading UK hospital has been told by inspectors it can resume heart transplant operations after treatment was suspended following a rise in deaths.

Cambridgeshire’s Papworth Hospital alerted the Government and agreed to halt operations while an investigation was undertaken by the Healthcare Commission.

The Commission subsequently ruled that the quality of care was good and found no common factors to explain the rise in death rates following surgery.

But inspectors said they would monitor performance closely in future and said the hospital would have to tell patients about the mortality figures.

The hospital raised the alarm last month following the deaths of seven out of 20 patients within 30 days of surgery.

The 35% mortality rate compared with 7% in the previous two years.

Nigel Ellis, the Healthcare Commission’s head of investigations, praised the hospital for alerting the authorities.

He said: “I want to be clear that we did not find any evidence of inadequate care, or that the deaths could have been prevented.

“The quality of care was generally of a high standard.”

But he said the recommendations made should “reassure the public that everything possible was being done to protect patients”.

The two-week investigation, which involved interviews with staff, statistical analysis, and evaluation of medical records, found that the patients who died tended to have a longer ischaemic time – the period the heart is without blood – from the removal of the organ to transplant.

The watchdog said this was a contributing factor but was no different to other transplant centres.

“The fact remains that heart transplantation is risky and is carried out on extremely ill patients,” Mr Ellis said.

Papworth’s clinical director of transplant services Steven Tsui said: “There are certain clinical preferences even though there is a lot of information sharing between hospitals.”

He said this was because there was such a low number of transplants in the UK each year that it was not always possible to deploy evidence-based practice.

Healthcare Commission