Heart surgery patients urged to give views over proposals

Campaigners outside the Royal Court of Justice, in London, after a successful legal challenge to the previous threat to Children's Heart Surgery in Leeds. Pictured (left to right) Lois Brown (Parent and Campainger), Sharon Cheng (From Save Our Surgery) and Dr Sara Matley (Director of Save of Surgery).
Campaigners outside the Royal Court of Justice, in London, after a successful legal challenge to the previous threat to Children's Heart Surgery in Leeds. Pictured (left to right) Lois Brown (Parent and Campainger), Sharon Cheng (From Save Our Surgery) and Dr Sara Matley (Director of Save of Surgery).
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Views about the latest proposals for adult and children’s heart surgery in Leeds are to be gathered at a meeting next week.

A public consultation over congenital heart disease services across the country is currently underway.

The proposals, which were revealed last summer, would see 13 centres performing surgery reduced to 10, and nine specialist cardiac centres cut to four.

Leeds General Infirmary will be one of the hospitals to continue carrying out children’s heart surgery, as long as newly-introduced standards for care are met.

It would mark the end of years of turmoil for the unit after it was earmarked for closure through a previous review, sparking campaigns and legal challenges.

Now the 16-week consultation run by NHS England is collecting views from patients, families and clinical experts about the proposals.

Professor Huon Gray, national clinical director for heart disease, at NHS England said: “It’s our job to organise services so that every adult and child with congenital heart disease in this country gets not just safe or good care, but excellent care.

“We’ve worked hard with patients and clinical professionals to develop a set of standards to achieve this, and heard clearly throughout this process that this would only be worth something for patients if acted upon.

“No final decisions have been made, and whether or not they are carried out in the way we’ve suggested, is subject to the outcome of public consultation, so we encourage everyone with an interest to get involved.”

A consultation document has been produced, with people able to give their views online or at a meeting at Leeds General Infirmary’s Littlewood Hall on March 21 from 5pm until 7pm.

The head of the charity which led the campaign to keep the unit open urged everyone affected to participate. Sharon Coyle, CEO of the Children’s Heart Surgery Fund, said: “The future’s looking positive for Leeds, and the Leeds Congenital Heart Unit are working their way to deliver the standards set out by NHS England.

“We encourage all our supporters and anyone with a vested interest to participate in the online consultation, if they are unable to take part in the Leeds consultation event itself.”

The new standards have aim to improve care and outcomes for patients.

They include that surgeons do a minimum of 125 cases per year, the equivalent of three per week. They also require that there should be a minimum of three surgeons in the team to cover 24-hours-a-day, rising to four by 2021.

To make sure critically ill children receive the full range of support, specialist children’s cardiac services must also only be delivered where there are other children’s specialist teams based on the same hospital site.

Visit www.engage.england.nhs.uk to give your views.

* Uncertainty has shadowed children’s heart surgery services across the country for years.

The latest national review of Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) services for children and adults came after a series 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 and in 2012, the Leeds General Infirmary unit was earmarked for closure.

A huge Yorkshire-wide campaign was started to retain the service, including campaigners visiting Downing Street, and a legal challenge was launched.

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, later shown to be unfounded.

The latest national review, this time including adult services, was launched later that year. Last summer, the standards which all units will have to meet were revealed and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust was one of the providers set to continue. However three NHS trusts, in Manchester, Leicester and west London, were said to be unlikely to be able to meet them.

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