Northern Echo - Freeman remains open but Leeds to Close

Specialist children’s heart unit at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital remains open – but Leeds to close


6:57pm Wednesday 4th July 2012 in News By Mark Summers

Families and campaigners celebrate at the Freeman Hospital as the news is announced

THERE was joy and despair as campaigners and supporters finally learnt the fate of the region’s two specialist children’s heart units.

After many hours deliberation by an NHS panel in London, it announced that the pioneering unit at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital will remain open.

However, there was bitter disappointment in Yorkshire that the Leeds General Infirmary unit will no longer perform operations.

Patients across Yorkshire and the Humber can still undergo diagnosis and monitoring in Leeds, but must travel to Newcastle, Birmingham or Liverpool for surgery.

The Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts (JCPCT) agreed to cut the number of children’s heart units to create larger units with greater expertise. It insists it is not a cost-cutting measure.

Sir Neil McKay, chairman of the JCPCT, said: “This is a landmark decision that clinicians and patients have long called for which will enable the NHS to improve care for children with congenital heart disease.

The needs of children, not the vested interests of hospitals, have been at the heart of this review. We only took the decision today after undergoing a robust, fair and transparent process which has already withstood the scrutiny of the highest courts in the land.

“Before making our decision, we carefully considered the responses to public consultation and all the available evidence and advice.

“Parents, patients and clinicians told us consistently during consultation that quality of care should be the most important factor, so hospitals’ ability to meet the new national quality standards was foremost in our minds when coming to this decision.

“We recognise these are difficult decisions to make, and that some people will be disappointed to lose their nearest surgical centre.

“However, we strongly believe our decision is in the best interests of all children and will ensure services are safe and sustainable for the future.”

The institutions which will house the specialist surgery centres are: The Freeman Hospital, Newcastle; Evelina Hospital and Great Ormond Street, London; Southampton General Hospital; Birmingham Children’s Hospital; Bristol Royal Hospital for Children and Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, Liverpool.

Together with Leeds, Glenfield Hospital, in Leicester, and the Royal Brompton, London, will no longer perform children’s heart surgery.

Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones last night vowed to continue the fight to retain the Leeds unit – adding that he and other local MPs would consider various options, including a judicial review.

“All those who have been involved in this campaign must be praised for their hard work and I’m sure none of them will give up hope.”

Sir Len Fenwick, chief executive of the Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “A big, big thank-you to everyone in the North-East, but also from throughout the country and abroad who supported Newcastle-upon-Tyne and all that we do.”

Kaylee Davidson-Olley, of Houghton-le-Spring, Wearside, made history in 1987 by becoming the first baby to survive a heart transplant, which was performed at the Freeman.

She said: “There is no way to describe how I feel right now… great.”

Susan Jackson, president of the Children’s Heart Surgery Fund at the Freeman, said: “We commiserate with the parents in Leeds because it must be difficult for them but we’ll welcome them with open arms.”

Ruth Smith, of South Shields, South Tyneside, whose two-year-old daughter, Lucy, had a transplant aged six months old, said: “It would be impossible to take away the expertise that the Freeman has built up.

“They provide a lot of different services to the most poorly, sick children you can find. Lucy wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the Freeman.

“Everybody is breathing a huge sigh of relief, but it is bitter-sweet that Leeds has got the news that it is going to close.

“It must be heartbreaking for them and I can’t imagine what they must be feeling.”

Sharon Cheng, director of the Children’s Heart Surgery Fund in Leeds, said: “Clinical logic has not been taken into consideration. They have ignored co-location. They have ignored patient choice.

“We will now appeal to the health minister as he assured us a decision would be made on clinical logic. This has not happened today.

And she warned that independent research revealed that Leeds patients would rather travel to Liverpool or Birmingham for surgery, which could leave the Freeman unit unable to meet its target of 400 operations.

“Without being able to meet this target, the unit at Newcastle could, in the future, also be forced to close, leaving a huge area in the North without any children’s heart surgery provision,” she said.

The Leeds unit served a population of 14.2 million people across Yorkshire and the Humber within a two hour drive time.

The decision was announced after several hours deliberation by the JCPCT, in London, which considered 12 options instead of the four originally tabled.

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said it believed “concentrating surgical expertise and developing networks of expert cardiology care will give children born with complex heart conditions the best quality of care”.

The review followed the landmark inquiry into children’s heart surgery at Bristol Royal Infirmary between 1990 and 1995, where up to 35 children and babies died as a result of poor care.

In the wake of the inquiry, it was recommended that paediatric cardiac units be set a target for the number of operations per year, and surgery be concentrated in a few specialist centres in order to ensure quality of care.

The Leeds unit served a population of 14.2 million people across Yorkshire and the Humber within a two hour drive time.

Leslie Hamilton, leading heart surgeon and former President of the Society for Cardiothoracic Surgery, said the rationale for fewer larger centres was compelling.

He said: “Operating on children’s hearts is truly demanding and has become more complex over time. Such complex surgery is best delivered by large surgical teams who can guarantee care at all times of the day or night.

“By concentrating surgery into seven centres we can continue to improve outcomes and reduce the side effects of surgery.

“Larger teams of surgeons will result in fewer cancelled operations, reduce the strain on individual surgeons and ensure the service is sustainable for the long term.

“I am confident that clinicians across the country will now work together to ensure we pool vital skills and provide excellent services in the best interests of children.”

Chief executive of the Children’s Heart Federation, Anne Keatley-Clarke, said: ”The delays to planned improvements in children’s heart services caused a great deal of uncertainty for parents and professionals, so we are pleased for them that this has come to an end.”

NHS Confederation chief executive Mike Farrar added: ”This announcement will allow the NHS to get on with making long-overdue and necessary changes.

”We have had eleven years of debate on this issue. Now is the time to act and get children’s care to highest standard possible.”


Source: The Northern Echo