We are fighting to continue child heart surgery

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One of the many demonstrations to defend the NHS against the government’s Health & Social Care Bill
One of the many demonstrations to defend the NHS against the government’s Health & Social Care Bill

THE fight goes on to continue child heart surgery at London’s Royal Brompton, Leeds General Infirmary and Glenfield Hospital, Leicester.

An NHS review concluded on Wednesday that the three children’s heart units should stop doing operations from 2014 on safety grounds.

But the NHS trusts involved believe they are being unfairly treated, warning that other parts of the hospitals could be affected by the loss of child heart surgery.

Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust chief executive Bob Bell said he ‘could not understand how this committee could have come to such a decision’.

He said: ‘I will now discuss this decision with the trust’s board and governors’ council to determine our next steps.

‘One thing is certain – I will not be asking them for the mandate to manage the destruction of a highly valued and respected children’s unit.’

Last November, the hospital won a High Court action against the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts (JCPCT), who carried out the consultation.

The hospital argued that stopping surgery would undermine its children’s intensive care unit, which in turn could destabilise the specialist respiratory unit it runs.

But the ruling was overturned by the Court of Appeal in April, and on Wednesday the JCPCT said the three hospitals’ units are to stop providing the surgery.

The units continue to provide care before and after operations.

Instead of legal action by trusts, the focus this time will be on patient groups and charities mounting a challenge.

Local councils could also get involved by calling on Health Secretary Lansley to overturn the ruling made by the joint PCTs committee.

In Leeds, a motion has already been drawn up calling for such a move and will be discussed at a council meeting next week.

‘We cannot allow the lives and health of these children and families to be determined by this flawed decision,’ said a joint statement issued on behalf of the leaders of all the political parties.

The statement said that the decision was a ‘devastating blow to families’.

A motion confirming the local authority’s plans to appeal will go before councillors next week.

‘We are totally committed to fighting this decision on behalf of the 14 million people living within a two-hour drive of Leeds and will be referring it immediately to the secretary of state,’ said the councillors.

Wakefield City Council leader, Cllr Peter Box said: ‘I am deeply disappointed and angered by the government’s decision to close this service.

‘I welcome the news that the campaigners are to appeal against the government’s decision to close this unit, which I believe was seriously flawed and will have a major impact on children’s health services right across Yorkshire.’

Campaigners trying to keep children’s heart surgery services in Leicester also said they will fight to keep open the East Midlands Congenital Heart Centre, at Glenfield Hospital.

The charity Heartlink said it would not accept the PCTs’ decision.

Heartlink spokesman John Rigby said: ‘We’re going to take stock, listen to what our reps have to say and be guided by them. We’re going to fight to do our very best to keep children’s services here.’

The centre, which conducts about 230 operations on children and 70 on adults each year, has the UK’s largest ECMO unit (a form of partial cardiopulmonary bypass) which oxygenates blood of critically ill patients.

It serves a population of about five million, with the next nearest similar unit in Birmingham, about 40 miles away.

A petition to save the unit attracted more than 100,000 signatures.