Heart surgery

We are the largest provider of cardiothoracic surgery in the UK. The Trust is a national referral centre for cardiac and thoracic surgery, and the only specialist cardiothoracic trust to provide treatment for patients of all age groups.

Referrals to cardiac surgery

All elective referrals for cardiac surgery need to be made by completing the cardiac surgery referral form and emailing it to the shared mailbox: rbh-tr.cardiacreferrals@nhs.net

At Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals we strive to ensure all our cardiac surgical patients receive treatment in a timely manner. To minimise waiting times for patients and ensure equity (equal access) for our patients, we aim to treat all patients referred for a Coronary Artery Bypass Graft within 3 months of referral. When a referral is made to a specific consultant and that surgeon is unable to treat the patient within 3 months, the patient will be offered an appropriate alternative surgeon in the team who has the availability to operate sooner. 


We have a long history of expertise in the field of cardiac surgery:

  • in 1980, we carried out Harefield Hospital's first heart transplant
  • the UK's first robotic-assisted heart operation took place at Royal Brompton hospital
  • we are pioneers in the field of surgical ablation for atrial fibrillation 

Needing heart surgery

People need heart surgery for different reasons but the most common are:

Coronary artery disease

The coronary arteries supply the heart with blood. In some patients, fatty material builds up inside the wall of the arteries (atheroma) and the arteries can become narrowed. When this happens, it reduces the blood supply to the heart and stops it getting the amount of oxygen it needs. This can cause chest pain and, in some cases, if the artery becomes totally blocked, a heart attack. 

Damaged heart valves

The heart has four valves that control the flow of blood going in and coming out. They can become damaged through ageing, rheumatic fever, infection, or a heart attack which sometimes make them stiff, narrower at the opening, or floppy - all of which can cause the blood to flow in the wrong direction.

When the valves are damaged, your heart must work harder to pump blood and, over time, the heart becomes enlarged (bigger) and stops working efficiently. When an enlarged heart stops working properly, we call this heart failure. Symptoms of heart failure include shortness of breath, tiredness, and fluid retention.

Enlarged aortic artery

The aortic artery is the main artery that carries oxygen-rich blood to the body. The aortic artery can become enlarged and burst (rupture). This abnormality is usually caused by a genetic disorder. 

Types of heart surgery

We perform a number of heart operations at Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals. These include: