Leeds General Infirmary child heart treatment transfers claims looked into
A heart unit under threat of closure has been accused of failing to send some children to another centre for life-saving, complex surgery.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) said it was looking into claims Leeds Infirmary resisted sending patients to Newcastle's Freeman Hospital.
Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust has strenuously denied the claims.
A spokesman said it had not restricted referrals and was holding talks with the health watchdog.
A review of child heart surgery in the UK is currently taking place with some units facing closure, including Leeds.
A statement from the Leeds trust said: "We strongly refute 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.
"Our principal concern has always been, and continues to be, a patient's health.
"Every decision we take in relation to children's heart surgery treatment or referral is based upon clinical judgement about the best outcomes."
The claims have highlighted cases in which families have said their children have received palliative care - treatment to relieve pain but not cure, which is often given to terminally ill patients - when they believed they could have recovered.
Nicola Garbutt, whose one-year-old grandson George Hall was born with an under-developed heart, claims the family had to fight to have him transferred by ambulance and treated in Newcastle.
The family, who live in Skipton in North Yorkshire, claimed doctors in Leeds told them little could be done for George but said after being treated in Newcastle he was doing well.
Ms Garbutt said: "We lived with a year being told he needed palliative care and if we had trusted Leeds it would still be palliative care with a life restriction.
"But now we've got George back and he is going to live a normal life."
BBC Look North's health reporter Sharon Barbour has also learned two charities have raised concerns about the transfer of children from Leeds for complex heart surgery.
In a letter to the NHS, the charity HeartLine said: "The problem is that where a parent wishes to refer a child away from the care of Leeds General Infirmary they are being treated in a wholly inappropriate manner."
The letter mentioned four families who raised concerns after they requested their children be transferred out of Leeds.
One parent claimed she was told by staff in Leeds her child was inoperable but she said her child was later operated on elsewhere.
The letter adds: "Leeds is trying to protect its reputation as a safe surgical centre.
"It is sending complex surgeries to other centres - rather than Newcastle, or not risking surgeries - which may be unsuccessful."
Another charity, the Children's Heart Federation, has written to the CQC watchdog.
Its letter said: "We are currently aware of much concern regarding the paediatric cardiac care service at Leeds General Infirmary... with chilling information on specific current cases.
"We seek assurances that there are no unsafe practices at Leeds General Infirmary and that all children and their carers are being treated appropriately."
A statement from the CQC said: "We are aware of the concerns that have been raised and we are currently considering whether any regulatory action is required.
"CQC's priority is to ensure the safety and welfare of patients is being met at all times and we will not hesitate to take appropriate action to ensure this."
Last month the High Court ruled the consultation over changes to children's heart surgery in England and Wales - which recommended the Leeds unit close - was flawed.
Legal action was brought by campaigners trying to save operations at Leeds General Infirmary but the ruling could affect other units.