Reassurances given over heart unit closure plans

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A LEADING charity has moved to reassure families over the changes to Yorkshire’s only children’s heart unit.

The Children’s Heart Federation (CHF) has welcomed the end to the uncertainty faced by many parents about which units will continue to provide children’s heart surgery.

Last month it was decided to stop heart surgery at three units including one at Leeds General Infirmary, used by many families from South Yorkshire, although the decision has since been referred to the Secretary of State.

NHS bosses decided that the best option for future heart surgery provision would be to have two centres in London and one each in Birmingham, Southampton, Bristol, Newcastle and Liverpool.

It means families from this region will have to travel to Liverpool or Newcastle for surgery.

Samantha Johnson, family services manager for the CHF, has urged families to support the decision.

She said: “For some parents who may have to travel somewhat further for their child’s surgery, it is important to stress that many families from across the country already travel for surgery.”

“This is done safely and effectively and travel times were considered during the changes.”

“It is also important to highlight that only around half of children with heart conditions will ever require surgery and of those who do around 90 per cent only one operation.”

“It is really important that parents and the public understand that no hospital or unit is closing.”

“Whilst surgery is stopping at three units, including Leeds, cardiology services will continue to be offered.”

“These changes are in now way about cost cutting but about delivering even better services for children.”

“The changes will result in excellent services closer to home through the development of new congenital heart networks where expertise and information is shared across hospitals.”

“We understand the feeling and local support for each unit, but we believe that the new standards and networks of care will provide safe, sustainable and excellent treatment for all heart children both now and in the future.”

“We urge everyone to get behind the decision and work together for the implementation of these changes.”

The CHF said the changes will see new higher standards of care being implemented.

Ms Johnson added: “The changes have been driven by surgeons, doctors and nurses whose professional associations supported a new set of national quality standards to ensure the highest quality of care for all heart children.”

“The new standards of care require each surgical unit to have four surgeons as this is the minimum number needed to ensure they have enough time to deal with planned and emergency surgery, reducing cancellations, as well as ensuring they can conduct necessary research and professional development.”

“The standards require each surgeon to carry out at least 100 operations a year so that they can maintain the necessary level of experience in what are incredibly complex procedures. Because there are only around 3,600 procedures a year, and this is remaining relatively stable, this means that not all of the current units are sustainable.”

“Whilst there was widespread support for the standards amongst parents, medical professionals and charities, working through the process of applying these standards has been challenging, as inevitably it means surgery stopping at some of the units so we can deliver higher quality care.”

Any parents who are concerned these changes may affect them can call CHF freephone infoline on 0808 808 5000 or visit www.chfed.org.uk.