Review into children's heart units hits further delays

The Northern Echo: MPS from Yorkshire pictured in 2011 campaigning to keep the unit at Leeds General Infirmary open. MPS from Yorkshire pictured in 2011 campaigning to keep the unit at Leeds General Infirmary open.

THE Government has revealed that the long-running review into children’s heart units will take even longer than expected.

Interested parties, including the Freeman Hospital’s world-famous children’s heart unit in Newcastle, were expecting that a new public consultation into the future of adult and children’s heart units would begin next month.

But during exchanges in the House of Commons, Health Minister Jane Ellison revealed the public consultation had been delayed.

This means the bitterly-contested issue of where specialist NHS heart services should be located is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

Leeds General Infirmary's child heart unit was threatened with closure which would have meant families from North and West Yorkshire having to travel to the Newcastle unit.

The process, which had to start again last summer after a court ruling that the process had been unfair to units such as the one at Leeds General Infirmary, has caused frustration and uncertainty in heart units around the UK.

It follows recommendations that all child heart surgery should be performed in fewer, more specialised centres.

Following the collapse of the review last summer, the Government announced a new review to examine all aspects of the treatment of congenital heart disease.

On the NHS England website John Holden, director of systems policy for NHS England, said: “We will not now begin consultation at the end of July 2014 as we had hoped. Instead we are now targeting mid-September. We think this is the earliest possible date we could launch consultation, and even to achieve this will be very challenging.”

Nick Brown, MP for Newcastle East, who challenged the Minister over the new delay, said: “The recommendation to the Government on children’s heart surgery, which was made in 2001, was that fewer units should be centres of excellence, because that was in the best interests of patients. Now, 13 years later, none of that has actually happened.”

Responding to Mr Brown's comments the Health Minister said: "I understand the right hon. gentleman's frustration but the review is very important. NHS England has confirmed that it will not be able to consult quite as early as it had wished, but it should be appreciated that this review is more comprehensive than the last one. For example, NHS England has developed a comprehensive set of commissioning standards which have never existed before. For the first time the whole patient pathway will be covered."

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