Newcastle Freeman Hospital faces wait for heart services review results

The long awaited decision over heart services in England could take until next year to be completed as the scope of the audit has widened

The Children's Heart Unit at the Freeman Hospital, Newcastle
The Children's Heart Unit at the Freeman Hospital, Newcastle

The results of a review into heart services in England which includes Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital are not likely to be known until next year, it is understood.

The review findings were originally due in June, however it appears a further delay has been caused as the scope of the audit has been widened.

Ten hospitals – including the Freeman Hospital – currently perform children’s heart surgery.

But the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts decided in July 2012 that the service should be concentrated in specialist centres to improve safety.

It said surgery should stop at Leeds General Infirmary, Leicester’s Glenfield Hospital and London’s Royal Brompton.

The proposals to halt operations at these hospitals provoked widespread opposition.

After campaigns to save them, the High Court quashed the decision, saying the consultation had been flawed and “ill judged”.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt then ordered a review of the review.

The Children’s Heart Federation said the delay to the review – and resulting uncertainty – was harming services across the country.

Its chief executive, Anne Keatley-Clarke, said in an interview: “It has not only resulted in low investment and affected staffing levels but has created a worrying culture of infighting within the service.

“We are receiving concerns that surgery cancellations are being partly caused because units are reluctant to refer children on to other heart units when they do not have capacity to deliver them.”

Newcastle Hospitals chief executive Sir Len Fenwick said he had “every confidence” in the original conclusion that the Freeman Hospital in the city should continue to provide heart services.

“I’m very confident, with this second review, they will recognise the breadth and scope of the services here in Newcastle upon Tyne,” he said.

The scope of the review has widened from testing for abnormalities in the womb to end of life care.

A three-month public consultation due this spring is now expected to start in the summer.

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