For years, a cloud of uncertainty has shadowed children’s heart surgery across the country.
The rollercoaster ride for families with a seriously ill child or medics providing lifesaving treatment has seen crushing lows as units were threatened, to triumphant highs as closure decisions were overturned.
Now, after years of controversy, the future of the service at Leeds General Infirmary finally has been secured.
NHS bosses have announced it will be one of 10 hospitals nationally continuing to provide congenital heart surgery for children and adults, as long as new care standards are met.
A review of services for both adults and children has been published by NHS England, with Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust one of the surgical providers to be supported with its plans to meet the new requirements.
But units are set to close at three NHS trusts, in Manchester, Leicester and west London, experts said they were unlikely to be able to meet the standards.
For Leeds, the news has come as a huge relief to campaigners and families, who have spent years fighting – including through the courts – to ensure the unit remained to care for children from across Yorkshire. Sharon Coyle, chief executive of charity the Children’s Heart Surgery Fund – which has led the campaigning – said: “It’s been a long time coming but this outcome is extremely positive for the families in the Yorkshire region and beyond.
“We are over the moon for them. The is the best outcome we could have expected. We have been completely vindicated on everything.”
She said they had expected the news as staff at the unit had been working hard to meet the new standards.
“What a relief it is, and staff can get on with doing their jobs, while families can rest assured that they are in good hands and receiving fantastic care.”
But she added that they were keeping in mind the three hospitals where services were under threat: “We know how hard it must be for families in those areas.”
The latest national review of Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) services for children and adults came after years of controversy over previous proposals.
The moves were designed to improve care following the Bristol heart babies scandal between 1990 and 1995, in which 35 babies died and dozens more were left brain-damaged.
Health bosses recommended care be centralised in a smaller number of centres, but moves to cut the number of hospitals were hit by controversy and legal action, including from campaigners in Leeds.
Two years ago the new review, which for the first time included adult services, was started and last year the new standards were unveiled.
Steph Ward, whose son Lyall Cookward has been a patient at the Leeds unit, said today’s result meant their battle was “worthwhile”.
“We are so glad we have taken it all the way. We have been vindicated and we’re delighted.
“There’s no question that the Leeds unit will meet the standards.
“We would not be able to do things with our son like take him on holiday if it had not been for the unit.”
The seven-year-old from Leeds, who suffered heart failure soon after birth, spent months in hospital.
Ms Ward added: “Lyall will need further heart surgery in future and to know it’s going to be in Leeds is fantastic.”
A national review of children’s heart surgery services across the country began in 2009.
Two years later, the Leeds General Infirmary unit was earmarked for closure as part of the shake-up and in 2012, a panel of experts recommended it should shut.
A Yorkshire-wide campaign was started to retain the service and campaigners also launched a legal challenge.
In 2013 the High Court in London quashed the closure decision, saying that the consultation over the proposals was “flawed”, but afterwards the unit was closed for two weeks over safety concerns, which were later shown to be unfounded.
The latest national review was launched later that year.