The new review of children's cardiac care at Bristol Children's Hospital, commissioned by NHS England Medical Director Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, is finally due to publish its report on 30 June 2016.
Laurence Vick is a solicitor in Michelmores' clinical negligence team, and represents a number of families in claims against University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust relating to children who died or were injured following cardiac surgery at the unit. He was joint lead solicitor to more than 300 parents affected by the Kennedy inquiry into surgery at the unit in the 1990s. He has continued to act on behalf of families in claims against child cardiac units across the country for over 15 years.
The Review, chaired by Professor Sir Ian Kennedy and Eleanor Grey QC, has been underway for nearly two years, gathering clinical evidence, interviewing employees of the Trust and taking statements from families of children treated at the cardiac unit. A number of children who received treatment have also been interviewed directly.
Inquests were held into the deaths of seven children who died at Bristol over the period 2012-13, with the Avon Coroner identifying 'lost opportunities' for better care in several cases. The Care Quality Commission also found, during inspections in late 2012, that there had been a number of shortcomings at the unit.
Several families had raised concerns about the safety of cardiac surgery at the unit and the Review was instigated after Steve and Yolanda Turner, parents of Sean Turner who sadly died at Bristol Children's Hospital in March 2012, contacted Keogh directly on social media, appealing to him to intervene in what they felt were serious shortcomings at the hospital.
Over the subsequent two years, there have been concerns among families that the scope and terms of reference of the Review would not address all the concerns of the families involved.
The Review panel has set out what it perceives to be its remit and the depth of its inquiry, with one of the key aspects being that the investigation will not address events that took place before 2010.
Bristol heart scandal
Similarly to the Kennedy enquiry into Bristol Royal Infirmary in 2001, carried out in the wake of the Bristol heart scandal of the 1990s, the New Review has commissioned clinical reports into a number of children's cases. A recent update also stated that a number of Trust staff had received 'Salmon letters', a process by which individuals who are due to be criticised in an inquiry are given an opportunity to respond to any allegations before the publication of a report.
The publication of the Review represents a significant step for the many families affected by what are felt by many parents to have been systemic shortcomings at Bristol.
However, anxieties remain as to whether the larger narrative of Bristol as a developing specialist centre, learning from the lessons of the Kennedy enquiry over a decade ago, will fall within the ambit of the review investigations.