Many cardiology and complex surgery units across the country face closure due to concerns regarding consistency of care.
Three hospitals in particular have been targeted which specialise in congenital heart problems and provide complex surgery for children and adults.
The plan to close units in Leicester, Manchester and London surfaced in 2016 after a 15-year long review had finally come to a conclusion. The review began in 2001 after issues regarding paediatric surgery practices at the Bristol Royal Infirmary were raised. In the subsequent years, Bristol has massively improved its standards of care, there is a greater emphasis on clinical governance throughout the country and by 2010, mortality rates from children’s heart operations has fallen from 4.3% in 2000 to 2.6%. However, in light of these improvements to patient care, plans are still going ahead to close many cardiac specialist wards and centres.
The new proposal will see patients requiring complex surgery referred on to ‘bigger hospitals’ nearby to consolidate services and to ensure surgeons treat enough patients to stay highly skilled.
According to NHS England, Glenfield Hospital in Leicester, Royal Brompton in London and Central Manchester Hospital are not meeting the quotas for operations conducted in each year. As a result, Surgery will be moved to Birmingham, Liverpool and Great Ormond Street in London. For some, this means journeying to hospitals and healthcare centres will be increasingly difficult; dramatically adding to their journey time, adding extra costs to travel and jeopardising patient safety.
Card Ward, from Leicestershire, has relied hugely on Glenfield Children’s specialist heart unit. Her one-year-old son had to undergo two open-heart surgeries at the hospital.
“Glenfield became a second home for us. Me and my partner were so fortunate to be able to commute the 20-minute drive, change shifts to stay with George and the other look after our other son at home after school.
“I feel so sad for Leicestershire and surrounding areas, in fact the whole country, as we met children who had been airlifted from hundreds of miles away to receive the special care and expertise.”
Many have been critical of the decision to close these units with some experts believing it will have detrimental effects on patient care in the areas. Former head of the children’s heart centre at Glenfield, Giles Peek has stated that this could be the “death of paediatric services” in the East Midlands. Robert Craig, operating officer at Royal Brompton said that closing the unit for one of the “largest and most successful centres in the country” is “an absurd approach” to the current situation.
Data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act found that up to 150 patients in the East Midlands were referred to hospitals outside the area, many of which were sent to Great Ormond Street in London. The current waiting list of children needing surgery at Great Ormond is 159 comparative to the 70 waiting at Royal Brompton and 14 in Glenfield.
If the reason for closing these units is due to numbers of operations per year, many have questioned why more patients aren’t being referred to these hospitals especially if they already live close by. Dr Aidan Bolger, head of service for East Midlands Congenital Heart Centre has said this would be a “simple solution” and “this is a proposal we’ve put to the NHS England.”
Consultations between the hospitals, patients and NHS England are still under way and a decision on whether these units remain open will be decided later this year.
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“Leicester’s Glenfield Hospital: What next for child heart patients?”
“Children’s heart surgery at Glenfield Hospital to stop”
“Heart surgery: Three hospitals told to stop complex treatment”
“Referrals ‘could save’ children’s heart surgery at Glenfield Hospital”
“Child heart surgery deaths in UK ‘halved’”
“East Midlands Congenital Heart Centre: Our Campaign”