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.

Heart surgery and COVID-19

Although most planned operations have been delayed during the COVID-19 outbreak, emergency cardiac (heart) operations and some urgent operations are still going ahead. This is because we think the risk is greater if the surgery is not carried out, than the risk posed by COVID-19. Harefield Hospital is currently one of only two hospitals in London performing emergency heart operations.

How decisions are made 

The decision to admit a cardiac patient for surgery is taken by all the clinical teams involved in the patient's care. This panel of experts meets daily as part of a 'cardiac hub' to review cases and decide upon the need for surgery, the planned operation and the timing of it. Only cases where the patient’s health would be at risk if deferred beyond three months are considered for surgery. Surgery is also considered in cases where the risk posed by a cardiac condition is deemed greater than the risk of contracting COVID-19. 

If you have been notified about a decision to carry out an urgent heart operation and you would like to discuss the implications of this decision and the impact that delaying your treatment may have, please contact your clinical team. 

Find out more about what to expect when coming in for a procedure and what we are doing to keep your visit safe 


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, 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 has to work harder to pump blood and, over time, the heart becomes enlarged (bigger) and stops working as well. 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: