New Leeds heart surgery review ‘will be better’

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Campaigners for Leeds heart surgery services have urged NHS bosses to learn lessons from the past as they push forward with plans for a fresh review of national provision.

Key members of the Save Our Surgery campaign joined representatives from a dozen local authorities across Yorkshire - who are all part of the Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee – to quiz senior NHS officials at Leeds Civic Hall yesterday.

There were promises of more transparency during the new process, however some concerns were raised about a new advisory panel, and other long-standing issues about requests for documents.

John Holden, Director of System Policy for NHS England, who is one of the people leading the new review, told the meeting: “We want to achieve new levels of transparency”.

He insisted bosses were trying to put patients first, but had inherited “a lot of sensitivities” and “a difficult set of issues”.

“We do want transparency and participation,” he said. “So we are trying to put every document online. We want everything of substance about this review to be available.”

Plans to close Leeds children’s heart surgery unit and move all operations to Newcastle were dramatically stopped earlier this year by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt after they were slammed in an independent review. NHS England is now putting together a fresh review which it expects to complete within a year.

Concerns were raised at yesterday’s meeting that a new Clinical Reference Group features many of the same individuals who sat on previous advisory panels. Sharon Cheng, director of the Children’s Heart Surgery Fund, said the group will be “quite influential” and “we do appear to have the same people on the group that we had before”. She has now written a letter to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and other key figures to raise concerns.

The panel was also told yesterday that following the temporary suspension of heart surgery at LGI earlier this year, there were now “no issues requiring immediate action or intervention”. Bosses have now commissioned an independently-led review of complaints raised by some families in relation to services at Leeds. Andy Buck, from NHS England, said the aim was to “draw this understandably difficult episode to a satisfactory conclusion”.

Speaking after the meeting, Ms Cheng said campaigners felt quite reassured. “The door was always shut before. But we feel that they are listening now.”

Coun Liz Smaje, representing Kirklees Council, said: “We appreciate that it’s a new review. But it has to learn lessons from the past. Everyone has to have confidence in the new review.”


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