Glenfield ECMO unit move 'puts lives at risk'

Lives could be put at risk if a specialist blood treatment unit at a Leicestershire hospital is moved, senior medics have warned.

Glenfield is the NHS's main ECMO unit, which uses equipment to oxygenate blood outside the body.

The treatment is crucial for seriously ill patients, including those with seasonal and H1N1 Swine Flu viruses.

A government review could decide the unit is moved - dispersing vital experience, experts claim.

The Department of Health is looking to concentrate England's child cardiac services into fewer, better units.

If affected, Glenfield's ECMO unit would also be redeployed.

Its director Richard Firmin said his team was stretched during the swine flu outbreak.

Not only were all beds filled but its nurses were co-ordinating treatment nationally.

"We ended up receiving 20 and 30 referrals a day, which we triaged between the various hospitals which were doing ECMO.

"So we had one nurse that was basically acting like a call centre just triaging all these patients."

His opinions on the review are blunt.

"Any dramatic change in moving ECMO around is likely to have unforseen consequences....potentially (deaths) are possible," he said.

Swine flu expert Professor John Oxford, said: "Twenty years experience in anything is so good - 20 years experience in intensive care in something like ECMO must be at the top of the pyramid.

"So one would not want to tinker with that pyramid, that structure, that has so carefully been built up over the years.

"So tinkering with it, messing around with it, could lead to things we wouldn't want to see."

He added: "These viruses are a huge threat - and not just flu either."

A spokesman for the review team said: "A children's respiratory ECMO service could be provided elsewhere in the NHS if children's heart surgery services no longer continued at one of the existing children's respiratory ECMO centres (Glenfield Hospital, the Freeman in Newcastle or Great Ormond Street).

"An expert panel confirmed that it was confident that Birmingham Children's Hospital would be able to provide an excellent respiratory ECMO service for children if required."

Inside Out looks behind the scenes of the Glenfield Hospital's Congenital Heart Centre on BBC One at 19:30 GMT on 31 October.

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