Appeal to the top over heart unit closure plan

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THE HEALTH Secretary is to be asked to overturn the controversial decision to close Leeds children’s heart surgery unit.

Campaigners “wholeheartedly welcomed” the move – a last-ditch attempt to save the Leeds General Infirmary ward.

Councillors from across Yorkshire unanimously decided to refer the decision to Secretary of State Andrew Lansley after quizzing members of the review team.

Sharon Cheng, from the Save Our Surgery campaign, said afterwards: “It’s an excellent move.

“We feel that questions were not answered today, as suspected. We still feel the people of this region are going to be seriously disadvantaged.

“This meeting should have taken place months ago. We welcome this decision wholeheartedly.”

The decision to strip LGI of its ability to carry out children’s heart surgery was taken three weeks ago by a panel of NHS chiefs in London.

Yesterday, its chairman, Sir Neil McKay, was questioned by a specially-convened Yorkshire and the Humber committee considering the move.

After hearing concerns from parents, doctors and campaigners, he said he wanted to answer their queries.

He told the meeting in Leeds: “Uncertainty is the enemy of progress.

“We want to get on with an implementation plan at the earliest opportunity.”

Sir Neil was challenged about how Newcastle – where Leeds and Wakefield patients would need to go to – would offer a better service.

He said: “The service will be better because we have got for the first time an agreed set of standards which will have to be agreed everywhere.”

A national model of care, minimum numbers of operations and more availability of doctors were also benefits, he added.

And speaking about the massive campaign to save the LGI unit, including a petition signed by 600,000 people, he said: “I commend the organisers of your campaign. To achieve that degree of signatories to a petition is a major achievement.

“But the Court of Appeal has said true consultation is not just counting heads.”

Asked about the impact of moving the heart transplant service away from Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital if Leeds was to stay open, he said experts had said Leeds would not be able to provide the service.

Councillors said, however, they could not understand how the decision to remove heart surgery from Leeds was reached.

Coun Christina Funnell, from York City Council, added: “I feel we should reject this process.”

Leeds councillor John Illingworth, chairman of the Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (Yorkshire and the Humber), said: “My reading of the committee is that they want to refer this issue to the Secretary of State. They are not satisfied there is going to be any improvement for the people of Yorkshire.”

The committee will now write to the Health Secretary and is putting together a report, which it will rubber-stamp in the next few weeks.

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