THE future of Leeds children’s heart surgery unit could be decided within a year, NHS chiefs have announced.
Controversial plans to axe heart operations for youngsters at Leeds General Infirmary were halted by the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt last month.
An independent report heavily criticised the review which had led to plans for a shake-up of care in England.
He ordered bosses at NHS England to map out a way forward for surgery amid calls from specialists for a rationalisation of care to improve standards.
In a report, officials say they plan to implement changes by June next year.
But surgery could still be stopped at some hospitals, which would lead to further formal public consultations after next summer.
An alternative would involve enforcing a national set of standards which hospitals would have to meet to provide surgery - opening the possibility of some units being forced to shut if they fail to perform.
The report by Bill McCarthy, national director for policy at NHS England, who formerly headed the NHS in Yorkshire, said a new review would cost £500,000 a year.
He said: “We recognise that continued uncertainty is a risk to the service and unsettling for patients.
“We must therefore set ourselves the target of delivering the new review at pace.
“But we know that speed cannot be an excuse for imposing a top down solution or for running a process where people feel excluded from the real discussions, so we will be setting ourselves the additional challenge of achieving new levels of transparency and the highest levels of genuine participation.”
He added: “It is widely acknowledged that the uncertainty which has been caused by recent developments is one of the greatest risks to the current delivery of the service. Patients and families are now unsure about precisely where and how they will receive treatment.
“Surgical centres are hamstrung in their planning and recruitment and retention is made more difficult by the lack of a clear service model.
“This in turn creates a risk that the safety and quality of services may not be able to be maintained, that service levels could reduce or there could be unplanned closures.”
The report said measures would be put in place to give NHS officials early warning of any emerging concerns at units.
The review by the Independent Reconfiguration Panel in June said recommendations by the NHS Safe and Sustainable review were based on “flawed analysis of incomplete proposals and their health impact, leaving too many questions about sustainability unanswered”.