Minister set to announce children's heart units review report

A long-awaited report into the reorganisation of children’s heart surgery services is expected to be made public by the Health Secretary today

Dante-Alexander McIntyre with mum Di at the Freeman Hospital's children's heart unit
Dante-Alexander McIntyre with mum Di at the Freeman Hospital's children's heart unit

A long-awaited report into the reorganisation of children’s heart surgery services is expected to be made public by the Health Secretary today.

Jeremy Hunt instructed the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP) to review a decision to stop surgery at three children’s heart units across the UK in order to centralise service into fewer, more specialised centres.

It is understood that the findings of the IRP review will today be outlined by Mr Hunt.

It was announced in July last year that children’s heart surgery would continue at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital following the NHS Safe and Sustainable review.

But that was soon put in jeopardy when Mr Hunt ordered for an independent review of the ruling.

Yesterday, at the launch of a campaign to build at £2m accommodation block for families of children being treated at the Freeman’s heart unit, medics criticised the length of time it had taken the Department of Health to reach a final decision.

Asif Hasan, a heart surgeon at the children’s heart unit, said: “It has been hugely frustrating for us that the review has carried on so long as it detracts from our day to day work.

“We were very much behind the Safe and Sustainable process to have larger centres to provide a quality of care that would be world-leading, as we know that smaller centres struggle to provide adequate care.

“We hope that a decision will be made soon and that the right decision is made on clinical, and not political, grounds.”

The Freeman Hospital is one of only two child heart transplant centres in the country and within the top five centres in the world in transplantation.

In 2009 officials launched the Safe and Sustainable review, conducted by the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts of England, to assess how best to streamline paediatric congenital cardiac surgery services.

The review concluded that expertise was spread too thinly in the 10 sites which house the surgical units and should be concentrated in fewer hospitals.

Officials announced that the Royal Brompton in London, Leeds General Infirmary and Glenfield Hospital in Leicester would close their units.

But the decision sparked legal challenges - one of which was aimed at stopping the closure of the heart unit at Leeds General Infirmary - and further reviews followed.

Meanwhile, North East based charities, The Sick Children’s Trust and Children’s Heart Unit Fund (CHUF), have launched a multi-million pound campaign to build a “home from home” for families whose child is being treated.

The house in the grounds of the Freeman Hospital will include 18 en-suite bedrooms and a transplant flat to help patients prepare to go home, as well as communal living areas and playrooms.

It indicates a confidence in the children’s heart unit’s future as funds and resources continue to be directed into the pioneering service.

Sir Leonard Fenwick, chief executive of Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The unit is internationally within the top five, so why should it not continue providing its breadth of services?

“We are recruiting more staff with a high caliber of skills base and the unit continues to go from strength to strength.

“The unit has never been busier and is known regionally, nationally and internationally.

“The new accommodation building for families will be a fundamental and integral part of services and support for families.”

It is expected that the new house will be opened by the summer or autumn next year and it will be will be run by The Sick Children’s Trust.

CHUF is donating £1m towards the project and North East businessman Graham Wylie is working with the charities to raise an additional £1m.

Mr Wylie said: “The accommodation is very important to make sure parents are comfortable and near their child at a very stressful and worrying time in their life.”

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