PARENTS last night expressed shock at the suspension of child heart surgery at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital as it emerged surgeons had themselves raised concerns over the deaths of four babies in three months.

On Wednesday, the Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust revealed the Strategic Health Authority and Care Quality Commission would be called in to investigate the four deaths.

All four children were operated on by the same surgeon, Caner Salih, whom hospital documents show was appointed consultant at the hospital 15 months ago.

The babies were all described as “seriously ill” and requiring life-saving surgery, and died during or shortly after the operations.

The death of one of the babies, 23-day-old Natalie Lo, who died on December 22, is being investigated by a coroner.

The hospital said it would not pre-judge whether the deaths were a statistical coincidence, or caused by a fundamental flaw in its processes.

Last night, parents of sick children described their fears, but praised the hospital.

Tetsworth mum Karen Green, 39, whose eight-year-old son Robbie has a congenital heart defect and has had more than 50 appointments at the hospital, said: “To anyone in my situation this is a very serious thing.

“I felt sick when I saw the news because I can imagine more than most how the parents of these babies might feel.

“I’d personally like to know what the problem is there, no matter how bad it was.

“I’d be happy to send him back to the JR as long as this is investigated properly.”

Carterton mum Georgina Terrell, 21, whose son Charlie, five, was born with a hole in his heart, added: “It is quite scary to think that any deaths could be down to surgery or infection or anything like that.”

Mr Salih is one of two heart surgeons at the hospital to operate on children.

The world-renowned Prof Stephen Westaby is continuing to operate on adults, but Mr Salih will not operate again until the investigation is complete.

Head of Nursing, Elaine Strachan-Hall said: “The surgeons initially raised the issue. Surgeons talked to managers, and people got round the table to discuss it.

“We took the opportunity to pause at a time when one of our anaesthetists was on annual leave, so there was not much surgery going on.”

No members of staff have been suspended or disciplined, and there is no suggestion of foul play or negligence.

No new procedures were used during the four operations.

Mrs Strachan-Hall added: “What we are doing now is entirely appropriate for what has happened.”

There are no publicly available statistics giving mortality rates for children undergoing heart surgery at the hospital, but Mrs Strachan-Hall said the number of deaths had been “higher than we would have expected” over the three months.

She added: “It is unusual for us, but every hospital may have a run of deaths.”

Hospital staff are working with the parents of 26 children due to have operations to find alternative hospitals.

In 2007, the Healthcare Commission criticised adult heart surgeons at the JR for failing to work together, and said staff did not use data to make improvements for the future.