Fury as Jeremy Hunt halts reform of children’s heart units

Health Secretary says plans to shut units in Leeds, Leicester and London should be suspended after latest report says decision was based on 'flawed analysis'

It has taken a dozen years, involved one of the worst scandals in the NHS’s history and involved five reports. But today, a national plan to concentrate children’s heart surgery in fewer centres for safety reasons was halted and its architects sent back to the drawing board.

Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, announced in the Commons that he was suspending the controversial reform, which would have seen the number of hospitals providing surgery reduced from ten to seven, following the latest of the five reports which  said it was based on a “flawed analysis.”

Children’s heart charities reacted angrily saying the “monumental delays” were putting lives at risk.

Anne Keatley-Clarke, Chief Executive of the Children’s Heart Federation said: “For the past 12 years, ever since the Bristol Baby Tragedy, we’ve been campaigning to ensure that another crisis in the care of vulnerable children can never be allowed to happen again. It has been really disappointing to see the implementation of the necessary improvements delayed. We want all heart-children, wherever they live in England to have access to an excellent service.”

Professor Norman Williams, President of the Royal College of Surgeons, said: “We are extremely disappointed that the reform plans aimed at providing the best possible heart surgery for very sick children will be suspended. We understand that there were flaws in the process; however, no process will ever satisfy everyone, and difficult decisions will need to be made by politicians where responsibility ultimately rests.”

The controversial plans to shut three of the ten units were drawn up by the Safe and Sustainable Review, on behalf of NHS commissioners, which began examining children’s heart surgery provision in 2008. That followed the 2001 inquiry by Sir Ian Kennedy into the Bristol children’s heart surgery disaster in which scores of babies died or were maimed by sub-standard treatment, which concluded lives had been sacrificed to maintain the hospital’s status as a specialist heart unit

Two further reviews were conducted following the Kennedy inquiry and a follow up report by him, published in 2011, ranked the units according to the quality and safety of the service they provided.

The Safe and Sustainable Review proposed the closure of three units – at the Royal Brompton hospital, London, Glenfield hospital, Leicester and Leeds General Infirmary – but its  plan provoked fury among doctors and patients in the units affected and led to the first legal clashes between NHS bodies.

Last month a High Court Judge quashed the decision to stop surgery in Leeds saying the consultation was “flawed and ill judged.”

Mr Hunt had earlier ordered an independent review of the closure decisions – the fifth examination of the issue – in response to protests from MPs in the affected areas. The report by the Independent Reconfiguration Panel, published on Wednesday, backed the need for change saying heart surgery should “only be provided by specialist teams large enough to sustain a comprehensive range of interventions, round the clock”.

But it said the plans were “incomplete” and left “too many questions” because they failed to take account of adult cardiac surgery and the need to consider the “whole pathway” of patient care.

Mr Hunt said: "This is clearly a serious criticism of the Safe & Sustainable process. I therefore accept their recommendation that the proposals cannot go ahead in their current form and am suspending the review today."

But he added that it was “not a mandate for the status quo or for going back over all the ground already covered over the last five years” because the original argument for improving care was unchanged.

It has been recognised for years that hospitals must maintain a minimum patient throughput to ensure doctors and surgeons maintain their skills, currently put at around 500 operations a year for children's heart surgery. With 3,600 operations annually in the UK, the arithmetic dictates a maximum of seven children's cardiac surgery units.

Mr Hunt set a deadline of the end of July for NHS England, which took over responsibility for the Safe and Sustainable Review in April, to come up with next steps in the process.

News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
health
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

    £7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

    Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

    Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

    £26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn