PARENTS OPPOSE CLOSURE OF FOUR CHILDREN’S HEART UNITS – while NHS Trusts discuss using trespass laws against ‘bed-blockers’

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March against the closure of Chase Farm Hospital in Barnett
March against the closure of Chase Farm Hospital in Barnett

PARENTS, charities and medical professionals have spoken out in opposition to the closure of four specialist children’s heart units, which were proposed on Wednesday.

The ‘Safe and Sustainable’ review of children’s heart surgery recommended that over a third of units in England, including London, should stop operating.

The report claimed patient safety and care would be improved if resources were merged.

A consultation document was published, which proposes the end of surgery at units in London, Leeds and Leicester. Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital has already stopped its operations.

Fiona Spensley, mother of Sophie, who was treated at the JRH with a pioneering treatment, a heart pump, told News Line: ‘Emergency cases like Sophie’s would die under this arrangement. Not all cases can be transported.

‘The review is just talking about congenital heart disease, but there are cases like Sophie’s and cases of accidents that are not covered.

‘Children such as Down’s Syndrome children with heart problems often have bowel problems that need to be treated at the same time.

‘My own daughter had a stroke and an infection and needed support from neuro-psychologists and infectious diseases specialists as well as heart surgery.

‘The John Radcliffe Hospital currently provides heart services for foetuses right through to old age.

‘They have a brand new heart hospital and a brand new children’s hospital.

‘They have a specialist maternity unit so mothers who have heart conditions often have babies with heart conditions. Under this reorganisation the babies will have to be transported away from the mothers immediately that they’re born.

‘So it really doesn’t make sense.

‘The John Radliffe has a helicopter pad and if you needed in an emergency to get to Birmingham or to London from Oxford you’ll find you can’t land the helicopter at the other end.

‘I don’t support the closure of the heart units.

‘They’re not listening to parents at all. It’s pseudo consultation.’

A spokeswoman for the Young Hearts Charity also opposed the closures.

She told News Line: ‘Young Hearts rejects the flawed analysis of the Safe and Sustainable review which suggests that surgical services for children with congenital heart disease should no longer be provided at the John Radcliffe Hospital.’

Anna Athow, member of the BMA council, gave her opinion in a personal capacity.

She told News Line: ‘We are told that a Safe and Sustainable review of children’s heart surgery was launched after the Bristol baby heart scandal in the 1990s.

‘Today, a four-month consultation has opened to reduce the number of paediatric cardiac centres from 11 to seven, supposedly in the interests of safety.

‘The question is, why now? If these centres were unsafe for over 10 years they would have been closed.

‘The rationale put forward is that surgical expertise is spread too thinly, that there must always be four surgeons per unit, and not two.

‘But the fact is that the majority of these units have been functioning satisfactorily up till now.

‘Reducing the number of paediatric surgical units inevitably means that patient access to them will be more difficult, involving longer distances and could result in emergency patients not arriving in time to be saved.

‘So why is this suggestion made now? Clearly it has everything to do with making the £20 billion cuts to the NHS in England.

‘We hear the same argument being put forward in relation to the District General Hospitals.

‘They say the maternity units, A&E and general surgical departments must be much bigger.

‘They claim that the traditional moderate size DGH cannot possibly have the expertise to function well. The evidence is not there.

‘Many DGHs have been providing excellent care for years, but are now suffering massive funding cuts.

‘What is true is that if you close the number of units, you rationalise on infrastructure and staffing and you save money.

‘The main motive for these changes is financial and these changes should be resisted.’

Meanwhile, it has emerged that trespassing laws are being lined up to throw frail and confused patients out onto the street.

At least three PCTs are planning to employ the outrageous measure to evict elderly patients who are deemed ‘bed-blockers’.

Pensioners reluctant to go home – often because they are too frail or confused to cope on their own – will be given 48 hours to leave.

If they refuse, NHS trusts have made it known that they will seek a court order for ‘possession’ of their bed.

The ‘bed-blockers’ could also be forced to pay the legal fees incurred.

Aintree University Foundation Trust and Southport and Ormskirk Hospital Trust, both on Merseyside, have both made it known that they are seeking to employ anti-trespass powers to clear out ‘bed-blockers’ and increase their turnover of patients.

‘Bed-blockers’ are patients who have been declared by doctors to be well enough to leave hospital, but remain because there is nowhere safe for them to go.

Dementia sufferers can be denied places in care homes, while other patients need stairlifts or rails to be installed in their own properties.

Many are widows or widowers or those whose children have moved away.

The offence of trespass is based on common law and is seen as a civil offence, not a criminal act.

The owner of the building, in this case the NHS Trust, would sue for damages if the patient refused to leave after a series of warnings.

The grotesque idea to employ trespass laws against the elderly comes from a case involving Barnet Primary Care Trust in North London.

In 2006, Barnet PCT used a High Court possession order to remove a patient who had been in hospital for three years after being declared fit to go home.

The patient was also made to pay £10,000 in legal fees.

Michelle Mitchell of the charity Age UK described the proposed treatment of vulnerable, frail patients by a primary care trust as ‘extremely heavy handed.

‘It appears to be a very blunt tool to fix what looks to be a far more complex problem.’

Last month a report found that ‘bed-blocking’ had worsened on many wards.

In a survey by Doctors.net, 40 per cent of medics said the situation had deteriorated in the past month, with half seeing no improvement.

Senior consultants are blaming councils for not organising services such as carers to enable the elderly to move back into their own homes safely.

The proposals, unearthed by HSJ magazine, have been brought in to reduce the number of ‘delayed transfers of care’.

A spokesman for Sefton Primary Care Trust, which has drawn up the plans with the two Merseyside hospitals, claimed legal action was a last resort.

‘It could only be considered after every other available option had been thoroughly explored with the patient and their family,’ she claimed.

‘However,’ she added, ‘the NHS has a duty to ensure hospital beds are available for those who are seriously ill and not occupied by people who no longer require acute consultant care.’

The plans to treat the elderly in this way have been condemned as inhumane.

Katherine Murphy of the Patients Association said: ‘This is an absolute disgrace. It is so difficult for these patients to get the help they need in the community

‘There are simply insufficient resources for people to cope on their own.

‘They need a planned discharge. This is a damning indictment of how society treats the elderly.’