Rotherham councillors hit out at heart unit decision

Zander Symms, 13 months, at his home in Dinnington who has undergone operations for numerous heart problems. Pictured with mum Cassie
Zander Symms, 13 months, at his home in Dinnington who has undergone operations for numerous heart problems. Pictured with mum Cassie

ROTHERHAM councillors have expressed their ‘bitter disappointment’ at the decision to close Yorkshire’s only children’s heart unit.

NHS bosses last week decided to close the unit in Leeds as part of a review of surgical provision across the country.

Borough councillors Shaukat Ali and Ken Wyatt said they were ‘very, very concerned’ at the decision to axe unit at Leeds General Infirmary, which is used by hundreds of families in South Yorkshire.

Their feelings were echoed by Dinnington mum Cassie Symms, who was left ‘heartbroken’ at the decision.

Cassie’s son Zander is a regular visitor to the unit where he had life saving surgery last year.

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

Coun Ali, who is Rotherham’s representative on the Regional Joint Health Scrutiny Committee set up to examine the proposals to re-organise services, said the campaign would continue.

He added: “The concerns of local parents and health professionals were fed into the Scrutiny Committee’s final report - confident that it reflected the strength of feeling, both locally and across all of the Yorkshire and Humber region, who did not want the Leeds unit to close.”

“The fight to keep the unit was also supported by members of Rotherham Borough Council who voted unanimously against the closure in a motion taken to Full Council in July 2011.”

“We are all obviously extremely disappointed at Wednesday’s announcement but Rotherham residents can be assured that the Joint Health Committee, together with other organisations, is now exploring the options that are available to fight the decision.”

Last October, the Joint Health Scrutiny Committee published its review of Children’s Congenital Cardiac Surgical Centres.

It concluded that in order to meet the needs and growing demand of the 5.5 million people living in the Yorkshire and Humber region, the unit currently provided by the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust must be retained and included in any future plans for congenital cardiac surgical centres.

As part of its evidence gathering, local councillors spoke to parents and doctors who clearly stated their concerns that any model of service that does not include a centre in Leeds, would deliver a significantly worse patient experience for children and families across Yorkshire and Humber.

Their concerns included the lack of co-located and interdependent surgical services, including maternity and neonatal services, at any of the alternative surgical centres available to patients and their families. In addition it would mean families would face considerable additional journey times and expense and would result in the fragmentation of the very strong network across the region and impact the recruitment and retention of specialist staff in clinics.

Coun Ken Wyatt, cabinet member for health and wellbeing for Rotherham Council, added that the decision was a ‘body-blow’ to families who used the unit.

He said: “I am very concerned about the effect the decision will have on the health and well-being of vulnerable children in the Rotherham area.”

“Surgery and treatment such as this has huge implications for whole families and the increased travelling to Newcastle will have a major impact both physically and from a finance point of view as low-income families struggle to get their children to appointments.”