A baby girl born with a hole in her heart had a life-saving operation cancelled five times as the NHS faces unprecendented hospital pressures.
One-year-old Evelyn Johnston-Smith was in desperate need of major surgery to correct the heart defect which was spotted at the 20-week scan.
She was successfully treated with a pulmonary band to fix her heart on September 19, 2016, but doctors said she would need a larger band within a year as she grew.
Doctors set November 14, 2017 as an ‘absolute deadline’ for the tot to receive her next operation – but the date came and went without surgery after it was set back five times.
Her mother Leanne Smith, 20, says there was a risk her baby could have gone into cardiac arrest by delaying the operation.
She says staff shortages, a lack of beds and an emergency case were responsible and has hit out at government cuts for causing the delays.
Evelyn finally underwent the complicated eight-and-a-half-hour open heart procedure on December 22 and is now recovering at home.
It is another terrifying display of just how overstretched the NHS is this winter – despite Theresa May denying there is a hospital ‘crisis’.
Leanne, from Leeds, West Yorkshire, said: ‘It’s just traumatic having it cancelled five times and being dragged into hospital three times.
‘But the hospital was working as fast as they could to reschedule.
‘In all fairness, it’s not the staff’s fault – it’s because there is a lack of funding.’
Evelyn was born weighing a tiny 5lbs 2ozs in August 2016 and immediately rushed to the neonatal unit at Leeds General Infirmary.
Medics initially thought Evelyn had hypoplastic left heart syndrome at birth, a congenital defect where the left side of the heart does not form correctly during pregnancy.
But it turned out she had a hole in her heart and went under the knife at three and a half weeks old.
Little Evelyn was then only given a 50 percent chance of survival after the operation when a surgeon incorrectly repatched the aorta when fitting a pulmonary band to stop Evelyn’s lungs flooding.
Luckily a second surgeon ‘saved the day’ after being drafted in to complete the procedure.
Evelyn was discharged at eight weeks old but was still needed surgeons to remove the band which she had now outgrown, and re-patch her aorta.
Dr Yvette Oade, Chief Medical Officer for Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: ‘Children undergoing major surgery are cared for post-operatively in our paediatric intensive care unit (PICU).
‘In times of high demand for PICU – when the unit is full of seriously ill children – we have to make the difficult decision to postpone non-emergency, planned operations.
‘These decisions are not taken lightly but we have to ensure we put patient safety first and continue to provide the highest standards of care for our patients.
‘We empathise with Evelyn and her family and we are very sorry that their experience didn’t match our high standards.’
NHS services across the country are struggling with an increased demand.
Last week Theresa May apologised to tens of thousands of patients whose operations were cancelled to free up staff and beds to deal with emergency patients.
The NHS announced it was postponing approximately 55,000 minor surgeries so it could keep up with demand this winter.