THE NHS has apologised to families of children who were treated at the children’s heart surgery unit in Leeds for failing to give them a sufficient level of care.

Thirty five children who underwent heart surgery at the unit at Leeds General Infirmary – which treats children from York and North Yorkshire – died between 2009 and 2013.

The unit was shut down for more than a week last year after it was found the death rate was 2.75 times higher than the national average and after parents and another NHS unit raised concerns.

While the findings of an NHS England commissioned report concluded that medical and surgical care of patients was safe and “in line with standard practice,” it has found the service given to families was not acceptable, prompting apologies from both NHS England and the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the hospital.

Parents have told how they were pressured into abortions, treated without compassion and were insensitively told their children were dying.

Julian Hartley, chief executive of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “We sincerely apologise to those families and will of course ensure we learn from what they had to say and improve our services as a result of this. We recognise this has been a very painful time for them and we thank them for raising their concerns.”

Today’s report is in two parts.

The first is a statistical analysis of mortality rates, focusing on the 35 children who died following surgery at the unit from 2009 to March last year. The second was a distressing report into the experience of 16 families – six of whom had children who died after heart surgery – which noted worrying omissions in care and compassion.

Among the accounts of parents: l Families said they were kept in the dark about how to give their children the best care.

l One baby had pneumonia after her operation, but her parents were not told for a week.

l A family who waited three years for an appointment for their seriously ill daughter said when they arrived, the doctor told them she was inoperable and was not on the waiting list.

l One mother said a doctor told her she was making “the biggest mistake of her life” in not having a termination when she found her baby had half a heart.

l One family said when their daughter’s blood was taken she was held down. They also said the day after her operation they found their daughter covered in vomit and blood and nurses had not been to see her.

l The parents of a child who suffered a brain injury were told in a “cruel and insensitive manner”.

The Trust said it was following a list of recommendations in the report to improve services and had appointed three new consultant surgeons.

More than 10,000 children are treated in the Leeds Unit every year.

More than 800 operations are carried out, with 1,500 scans for expectant mothers whose babies are suspected to have a heart condition.

Last June, campaigners won a battle to stop the NHS from concentrating children’s heart surgery in fewer specialist hospitals. One centre to be axed was Leeds General Infirmary, but after the intervention of health secretary Jeremy Hunt – and a campaign by parents – the plan was shelved. The results of a new review are due to be announced in the summer.