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Expert questions child death rate

A controversial move to suspend children's heart surgery at an embattled hospital was further inflamed when an expert in health statistics questioned the figures behind the decision.

Children's congenital heart surgery at Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) was put on hold this week after concerns that death rates were twice what should be expected.

But Professor Sir Brian Jarman, an expert on mortality data, said that from his analysis over the last four years the death rates at Leeds were average - "a little high" but "not significantly higher than other units", the Independent on Sunday (IOS) said.

While the row continues the failure to reorganise services is putting lives at risk, parents and charities said.

The hospital, which is engulfed in a long-running row over the future of its children's heart services, is carrying out an internal review after data suggested a death rate twice the national average. Doubts have been cast over the reliability of the mortality figures after it emerged they did not include scores of operations carried out by the unit.

Elspeth Brown, consultant cardiologist at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, claimed the mortality figures for Leeds were "incomplete", with more than a third of cases missing. Just 180 operations out of more than 300 in the unit were considered in the figures, she said.

Dr Brown called for the unit to be allowed to resume children's heart surgery, the IOS said.

She told the newspaper: "We do now know that the figures that were presented... were simply wrong, they were incomplete, did not include all the operations in Leeds, and that they had then been subject to some statistical analysis which generated this headline figure.

"We've been looking very hard at the figures over the last three years and we are confident that our mortality figures are well within what would be expected. All the clinicians in Leeds are very happy with our figures at present."

Campaigners have criticised the suspension of surgery and its timing, which came 24 hours after a High Court judge ruled the decision-making process to close the children's unit was "legally flawed".

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