Children ‘may die’ if Leeds heart centre is closed

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Sick babies could die unnecessarily if children’s heart surgery moves from Leeds, a top doctor has claimed.

Dr Mark Darowski also accused the process which led to plans to close the city’s specialist unit of being tailored to favour a rival hospital.

The paediatric intensivist warned of “avoidable deaths” among seriously ill newborns if they had to travel to Newcastle.

Dr Darowski spoke out as councillors on a regional committee continue to press health bosses over the controversial move.

Earlier this year, NHS heads decided Leeds General Infirmary should be stripped of its children’s heart surgery service.

That sparked outrage and last month the Government announced the decision would be independently reviewed.

Leeds campaign group Save Our Surgery (SOS) has also started legal action, with the date for a judicial review now revealed as February 11 and 12 next year.

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Dr Darowski, lead clinician for the North East and West Yorkshire Paediatric Critical Care Network, said longer distances could be devastating, especially for babies born with one particular serious heart defect.

“These babies, whose outcome is excellent with timely treatment, require time-critical transfers and increasing the journey times may result in some avoidable deaths,” he said in a report.

He told the Leeds meeting the concern had not been taken into account properly when the decision was made: “Risk increases with distance and that fact was completely ignored.”

Councillors quizzed him about the impact on the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle if parents from Yorkshire refused to travel there, so it might not reach the required number of operations.

“There is undoubtedly a problem around the sustainability of the service in Newcastle,” he said.

“In my view the whole of the review has been driven by the view that Newcastle needs to be made sustainable.”

The board also discussed claims that health chiefs diverted millions of pounds away from Yorkshire, while money was pumped into the North East.

As reported last month in the Yorkshire Evening Post, analysis by Leeds councillor John Illingworth showed Yorkshire received disproportionately less funding from the National Specialised Commissioning Team – which proposed closing the LGI unit.

NHS bosses have previously said the figures were “flawed” and yesterday councillors on the committee agreed to ask NHS heads for an explanation.

In response to the latest claims, a spokesman for the Safe and Sustainable review said: “Dr Darowski’s analysis is flawed because it fails to recognise that in an emergency a child with heart disease from Yorkshire will continue to be collected by the highly specialist team based in Barnsley.

“Parents, patients and clinicians told us consistently during public consultation that quality of care, not journey times, should be the most important factor.”

Date: 13th December 2017.
Picture James Hardisty.
Players from Yorkshire County Cricket Club, visited the Children's Leeds Congential Heart Unit to hand out gifts to the patients. The Children's Heart Surgery Fund are the club's current charity partner and this is the second year running the players have made such a visit. Pictured YCC players Andrew Hodd,  Alex Lees, and Jack Brooks, chatting to Ayva Sinclair, aged 19 months, of Leeds, with her mum Carla Scarfe.

Yorkshire cricketers bring festive cheer to youngsters on Leeds Children’s Heart Unit