Scandal of care at top children's hospital
• Parents 'lied to' about poor treatment
• Inquiry ordered after doctors' claims
Treatment at one of Britain's leading children's hospitals is worse than that in the developing world, according to a damning doctors' report uncovered by The Observer which also reveals how parents are "told lies" to cover up sub-standard care.
In the document, which the head of the Royal College of Surgeons describes as alarming, consultants are scathing about the Birmingham Children's Hospital. Last night MPs called for a full inquiry into the quality of care at the hospital, where children are treated for life-threatening conditions such as liver or kidney failure, neurological problems and chronic heart complaints.
The report was commissioned by the NHS primary care trusts in Birmingham that fund the hospital after senior doctors at the hospital and the neighbouring University Hospital Birmingham, including world-renowned experts in paediatric care, complained that their repeated attempts to raise the alarm had been ignored. The report reveals that:
• Doctors lie to parents about why their child has undergone a major operation because they cannot admit that the hospital lacks the personnel and infrastructure to conduct safer procedures.
• Support for surgeons undertaking kidney transplants is so poor that consultants felt they had received better back-up when performing such procedures on a visit to Lagos, the capital of Nigeria.
• Transplant services for children with serious liver failure are so poor that they constitute "a third-class service [which is] putting patients at risk".
• Children with neurological problems have been involved in "close calls" - potential threats to their health - because of delays in getting them admitted to the right specialist ward. Nurses who work on the ward are resigning because of dangers to patients.
• Staff who support surgeons during complex operations do not recognise which surgical instrument has been requested, causing delays.
• Doctors no longer report safety risks because "there is no point" as hospital managers do not respond with action.
• Specialist services for very ill children with rare conditions "are being allowed to wither on the vine" because of a lack of resources and poor management.
Paul O'Connor, the hospital's chief executive, insisted last night that 'there is no immediate clinical risk to any patients at the hospital' but yesterday after being contacted by The Observer he commissioned Dr Jane Collins, his counterpart at London's Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital, to conduct an inquiry and produce a report that he pledged to publish.
A Department of Health spokeswoman last night said it took such matters 'extremely seriously' adding: 'The Department of Health is waiting to receive the findings of this investigation. When we do we will consider these findings very carefully and respond.'
John Black, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England demanded urgent action last night. 'It's alarming to read this report. It's unusual, to say the least, for a group of internationally known consultants to say that the paediatric service is third class and putting patients at risk.
'The report has highlighted real problems. It's a relief that it doesn't say that harm has occurred, but the consultants are saying that in their opinion patients are being put at risk. I would think that this report should ensure that, before the risk turns into an actual event, this should be acted upon.'
Steve McCabe, a government whip and MP for Birmingham Hall Green, said: 'It's very alarming to read that there's very poor management at the children's trust, leading to unnecessary waiting lists and putting lives at risk. It's very worrying that senior clinicians and consultants are making these claims but are not prepared to report incidents formally, thus allowing them to be swept under the carpet. There needs to be a much more thorough investigation.'
Jonathan Fielden, chairman of the British Medical Association's consultants' committee, said the report showed hospital managers had not listened to concerns raised by its most senior doctors and put financial concerns ahead of improving care for highly vulnerable patients.
Andrew Lansley, the shadow Health Secretary, called for an 'urgent' response. 'Birmingham Children's Hospital has some fine staff. I would be very worried if they expressed concerns like these. This is something the board will want to urgently respond to.'
Last night Lisa Weale, who criticised the quality of care at the hospital after her four-month-old son, Thomas, died there in December 2004, welcomed the report's publication.
'I am not surprised by what this report has found and I am glad that this is being highlighted. I knew that it was not only us who had been through such bad treatment. I feel the hospital have been getting away with this silently.'
She said a recent letter of apology from the hospital was 'too little, too late'. She and her partner Jason Smith have received an out-of-court settlement over the death of their son.