Leeds & West Yorkshire

Health Secretary to consider children's heart surgery move

Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting
Image caption The meeting of the health watchdog in Leeds was open to the public

The decision to stop children's heart surgery in Leeds is to be referred by the regional health watchdog to the Secretary of State for Health.

The move comes after Sir Neil McKay, who led the inquiry into children's heart surgery, told the watchdog that the inquiry's conclusion was correct.

Sir Neil told the Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee for Yorkshire that all concerns had been listened to.

The decision to refer the matter up had been unanimous, the committee said.

The committee, which represents councils across Yorkshire and the Humber region, made its decision after meeting in Leeds to discuss the review into children's heart surgery.

The review, by the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts, concluded earlier this month that units in Leeds, Leicester and London should stop surgery because expertise was spread too thinly across the health service.

If surgery ends in Leeds, families from Yorkshire and the Humber region will have to go to Newcastle or Liverpool.

Final decision

Speaking to the committee, Sir Neil denied claims he was biased towards Newcastle's Freeman Hospital, where children's heart surgery will continue, and that the consultation process was flawed.

He told the meeting: "There was always going to be disappointment, always likely to be children and their families having to travel further than existing centres."

He added: "Every twist and turn of this review we've sought clinical advice on every aspect of the matter that's been deliberated.

"The emergency transfer of sick children and babies we gave particular attention to."

Dr Leslie Hamilton, from the NHS Safe & Sustainable Steering Group, which offered clinical advice on the issue, told the meeting: "I would not be involved in anything that would put children at risk because I have devoted my career to this."

Sir Neil said a public consultation on the issue was "one of the biggest in the history of the NHS", and all concerns had been listened to.

Campaigners' petition

When questioned on why the service would be better, he told the meeting the change "meant [that] for the first time" an agreed national set of standards would have to be applied everywhere.

He said: "Please believe us, we have operated in good faith and we are determined that the standards and advice be converted into a plan that will provide across the country a service to be proud of."

Patient representatives, doctors, councillors and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust officials are also speaking at the meeting.

If the watchdog decides the decision is not in the interest of health services in the region the committee can refer the matter to the health secretary for a final decision.

Image caption MPs and hospital staff took part in a demo on Monday

Campaigners fighting to keep heart surgery in Leeds had gathered more than 600,000 signatures on a petition.

The decision means patients in England, Wales and some from Northern Ireland will have surgery at one of seven hospitals in the future.

The hospitals are Great Ormond Street and Evelina Children's Hospitals in London; Newcastle's Freeman Hospital; Birmingham Children's Hospital; Alder Hey in Liverpool; the Royal Children's Hospital in Bristol; and Southampton General.

John Illingworth, chair of the Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee for Yorkshire, said it would begin to collate information "immediately" in support of its submission to the Health Secretary.

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