An under-threat heart surgery unit in Leeds has today been given the green-light to stay open after meeting rigorous new NHS standards.
The Leeds Congenital Heart Unit, the second largest in the country, was under threat after new standards for congenital heart disease services were introduced last year.
But the Leeds General Infirmary-based unit was found to be meeting those standards and will remain open, bosses NHS England bosses confirmed at a board meeting in London today.
It comes after years of uncertainty over the future of congenital heart services in Leeds, and campaigners have battled since 2011 when an NHS review first earmarked the unit for closure.
The news has been welcomed by organisers at the Children’s Heart Surgery Fund (CHSF), whose Save our Surgery campaign helped save the unit from closure in 2013.
Sharon Coyle, chief executive of CHSF, said: "We are thrilled to hear today’s news, as finally, the families of Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire have certainty.
“Without the support of our families, patients, community, MPs, councillors and corporate partners over the years, we wouldn’t be open today.
“We must now look to the future and our aim is to carry on supporting the Leeds Congenital Heart Unit in reaching the new standards set out by NHS England.”
NHS England today said that the unit in Leeds is meeting all of the standards in relation to the number of surgeons, the operations they perform, and the co-location of its specialist services.
It found that there is a "robust action plan in place" which has been agreed with NHS England and NHS Improvement.
Julian Hartley, chief executive at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the LGI, said: “This news is very welcome - we are delighted that we can now confirm our ongoing status as a provider of this vital service.
“It’s been a challenging nine years since NHS England first begun its work to review these services.
"I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to our staff at the Leeds congenital heart surgery unit: they have continued to provide world class treatment and care for our patients
throughout. I’d also like to thank our supporters and advocates, particularly the Children’s Heart Surgery Fund, who have helped us to reach this point.”
The CHSF, run as a charity that relies on donations, will celebrate its 30th anniversary of supporting patients and their families in the city next year.
In 2016, the charity launched the Keeping The Beat appeal – with a target of raising £500,000 by September 2018 - to raise money for a new state-of-the-art children's heart surgery theatre in Leeds.
Heart surgery services at risk of closure elsewhere in the country were also today given a life-line after pledging to make steps to meet safety standards.
Units which had been fighting to keep services open, including the Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust and University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, have been told that they will be able to continue to provide services as long as certain standards are met.
Congenital heart disease services have been the subject of a number of reviews since the 2001 public inquiry at Bristol Royal Infirmary - when experts said that children's heart surgery services should be concentrated to fewer specialist centres.
But narrowing down the number has proved cumbersome for health officials who have spent years trying to concentrate services.
Reviews into the issue have even led to some NHS bodies launching legal action to try to protect their services.
The most recent review set out standards that each unit providing heart surgery and specialist services is expected to meet.
These requirements included: surgeons performing a certain number of operations each year, a minimum number of surgeons in each unit and children's heart surgery services being co-located on sites which provide a range of other paediatric services.
All units providing adult and children's congenital heart surgery in England were assessed against new standards.
A recent document highlighted how a number of services, including those at the Royal Brompton and Leicester, did not meet these standards.
But at the NHS England board meeting, officials set out how the hospitals planned to meet the required standards and would "conditionally" continue to provide services.
Dr Carin Vandoorn, clinical lead for congenital heart surgery in Leeds, said: “The team has worked very hard over the last few years to centralise children’s heart services, and to meet the rigorous new national service standards
“We’re the second largest congenital heart unit in the country and provide care to children and adults from across Yorkshire and Humber, and further afield. I am pleased that we can now look to the future and concentrate on giving them the best care, as close to home as possible.
“We’re now working on our exciting development to build new children’s heart theatres and completely remodel the Children’s Hospital which will enable us to continue providing world class treatment and care.”