Campaigners’ delight at NHS announcement
After years of protests against the closure of Leeds’ Children’s Heart Surgery, campaigners were able to celebrate this week after NHS officials announced plans to keep the unit open.
Plans had threatened the existence of the West Yorkshire unit as the number of level 1 centres – such as Leeds – that perform surgery are set to be cut from 13 to 10.
Nine level 2 specialist cardiac centres will also be cut to four.
In 2015, NHS England published new commissioning standards for units performing both adult and children’s congenital heart surgery (CHD services) following extensive consultation with patients and their families, clinicians and other experts.
Since then, hospital trusts providing CHD services have been asked to assess themselves against the standards, which came into effect from April 2016, and report back on their plans to meet them within the set time frames.
Despite Leeds being touted as a possible site set for closure in recent years, the announcement this week means the surgery will be able to continue operations.
Julian Hartley, Chief Executive of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “I am very pleased that NHS England has confirmed it will continue to commission a full range of CHD services for children and adults from Leeds Teaching Hospitals.
“This is extremely positive news for our hardworking congenital heart team at Leeds General Infirmary and I would like to pay tribute to their professionalism and dedication.
“We have exciting plans to develop our service to fully meet the new standards and look forward to a bright future.”
Dr Jonathan Fielden, NHS England Director of Specialised Commissioning and Deputy National Medical Director, said the decision on the future of all surgeries was made following a ‘great deal of work’.
He said: “Patients, families and staff need to be assured of sustainable, high quality services now, and into the future.
“There has been a great deal of uncertainty over the future of congenital heart disease services over the past fifteen years. We owe it to patients, families and staff to end that uncertainty, and to provide clear direction for the safety and quality of this specialist area of medicine going forward.
“A great deal of work has gone into achieving consensus across the board on the standards that providers should meet. We are determined to take all actions necessary to ensure that those standards are met, so that patients get the high quality and safe services that they expect and deserve.
“This is further proof that NHS England as the national commissioner of specialised care is stepping up decisively on behalf of patients now and to sustain quality care for the future.”
While some patients will have to travel further to access specialist services as a result of changes, NHS officials say emergency admissions are rare, and ongoing work aims to ensure that more of a patient’s long-term care can be delivered closer to home, meaning fewer trips to specialist centres.
Where the transfer of services goes ahead, NHS England have also committed to working with the hospital trusts to ensure that staff are supported.