We spoke to Dr John Thomson, Lead Clinician for Congenital Cardiology to find out what life is like working at the Leeds Congenital Heart Unit now the new ‘Keeping the Beat’ Hybrid Theatre is open…

What has the hybrid enabled you to achieve that you couldn’t before?
“First of all, we’re now completely adjacent to all of our other colleagues doing the technical and difficult work in children’s heart surgery and catheter treatment – so we’re completely adjacent to the surgical teams. Very close to the intensive care unit. We’ve already done a number of cases directly with our surgical colleagues where we’ve been able to bring our catheter skills and their surgical skills together – the hybrid cases. We’ve treated a number of children including the smallest child we’ve ever treated at 1.7kilos who had a hybrid procedure a couple of weeks ago. So we’ve done lots of things. It’s been really good to be together, and in a very specific environment designed for what we need to do.”

Does the new hybrid theatre improve efficiency?
“Our main interest is in quality rather than efficiency. I don’t know whether we’ll treat more patients because of this but I certainly know we’ll treat them better. I think the equipment will give us better images and allow us to do better treatments, and work with other groups of professionals to get the best outcomes. So we’re not really looking at it in terms of raw numbers, rather in terms of quality.”

And has it resulted in less invasive procedures, as predicted?
“Yes it has, we’re now more able to do procedures without necessarily having to open up patient’s chests to get to the heart and we can do that in different ways. We’ve moved to treating smaller children, with keyhole techniques using this equipment. These patients really are out of hospital quicker and that’s a very important thing for us and for our patients.”

“Undoubtedly, the less invasive we are with treatment i.e. you don’t do a large open incision then patients do recover quicker and get less post-operative pain.”

“The exposure to radiation is significantly less with this equipment because it’s new and state of the art. The x-ray equipment like everything improves massively over time. Our previous cath lab was over 10 years old and the x-ray doses were very much higher than they are now in this new lab, and that’s really important for growing people that are having treatments because you want to minimise exposure. So thank you for that it makes a big difference.”

“And undoubtedly we can do more complex procedures and certainly we have available to use more arrows in our quiver for treating patients with heart problems. We’re able to choose different treatments that are available to us because of this equipment.”

In what ways does the hybrid help Leeds advance congenital care?
“This is a very technical area of medicine. To be at the forefront and do anything that’s new or better, requires a huge amount of high-end equipment and we’ve got that now. We are able to treat more difficult patients, and we are able to treat smaller patients just as we hoped we would do at the beginning and I think that’s really helping. It’s helping the patients, but it’s also helping us describe and improve some of these treatments that are used elsewhere in the country and the world as well.”

Are there any unexpected positives or difficulties with the new hybrid which you didn’t expect?
“The one main issue for us at the moment is that obviously congenital heart disease affects patients of all ages – all the way from babies before birth right the way into adult life. And the children we treat have seen the benefit of this, but of course we also have a lot of adults both young and older with heart problems and at the moment we’re now in a children’s environment which means we don’t have this facility available to them. But we hope we’re going to able to work with the hospital to maximise the resource we have and do the best that we can for all of these patients of any age that were born with a congenital heart defect.”

“I guess the unexpected things are that because we’re now closer with lots of our colleagues we have much more of a day to day relationship with them. We’ve always seen our surgical colleagues – the heart surgeons – frequently, but we see the other theatre staff. That’s nice because we’re building up both professional relationships and a team right the way across the board in this area that we didn’t have before.”

What would say to CHSF supporters who contributed to Keeping The Beat?
“I’d like to say a really big thank you to all the supporters of Children’s Heart Surgery Fund and the Heart Unit here in Leeds. The work and the fundraising you’ve done has really made a massive difference – this is a fantastic facility. And without the charity, and the work that you do to fund CHSF, we really couldn’t make the difference that we are doing to patients with congenital heart disease.”