Decision to reprieve regional children’s heart surgery unit welcomed

Leeds General Infirmary where plans to close the children's heart unit sparked protest
Leeds General Infirmary where plans to close the children's heart unit sparked protest

Campaigners last night welcomed a decision to halt plans to axe children’s heart surgery in Yorkshire after a highly-critical report uncovered key failings in a controversial NHS review.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt ordered NHS officials to re-examine the delivery of heart surgery for youngsters as he backed the findings of the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP) which detailed serial blunders leading to a decision to end children’s heart surgery at Leeds General Infirmary.

Last night supporters of the Leeds unit, which serves Calderdale, vowed to continue their battle to retain care in the region.

Experts from the IRP concluded a decision by NHS chiefs to axe services at Leeds and two other units “was based on flawed analysis of incomplete proposals and their health impact, leaving too many questions about sustainability unanswered and to be dealt with as implementation risks”.

They found proposals by the Safe and Sustainable review, which has so far cost more than £8m, would have a “disproportionate” impact on people from Yorkshire who mainly faced long journeys to Newcastle for treatment if the closure went ahead.

Mr Hunt said the process selecting sites for closure had flaws, as he told MPs moves to streamline services must continue.

“But it is also essential that it is performed correctly so that any decisions, as difficult as they may ultimately be, carry the confidence of the public,” he said.

Sharon Cheng, of Leeds campaign group Save Our Surgery, said the outcome “completely vindicated” its successful judicial review against the decision.

“The new review process must be fully open and accountable and ensure there is a level playing field, with all units treated equally and standards of care for children the only consideration,” she said.

“The review must look at quality of care throughout the entire process for children undergoing heart surgery and the long-term aftercare this requires into adulthood. This includes taking into account the vital need for families to easily access their nearest unit to help look after their children.”

NHS England said it would set out a new way forward in the autumn, with plans for implementation within 12 months.

Its medical director Prof Sir Bruce Keogh, said: “We will institute a new process that recognises the very strong case for redesigning services to meet the demands of the future whilst addressing the legitimate concerns in our local communities.”