Fury at Jeremy Hunt’s U-turn on child heart units

Specialists warn patients will suffer as Health Secretary suspends rationalisation plan

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

The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, announced in the Commons that he was suspending the controversial reform, which would have seen the number of hospitals providing surgery reduced from 10 to seven, following the latest of the five reports which said it was based on a “flawed analysis”.

Children’s heart charities reacted angrily. Anne Keatley-Clarke, the 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. 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, the 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.”

The controversial plans to shut three of the 10 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. The report concluded that lives had been sacrificed to maintain the hospital’s status as a specialist heart unit.

A follow-up report by Sir Ian, 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 the Royal Brompton hospital, London, Glenfield hospital in Leicester, and Leeds General Infirmary, but it provoked fury among doctors and patients 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. The report by the Independent Reconfiguration Panel, published today, 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 and 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 carry out a minimum number of operations a year to ensure that doctors and surgeons maintain their skills. This number is put at around 500 for children’s heart surgery. With such 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 the next steps in the process.

Fit for purpose? Reprieved

Royal Brompton, London

Ending children’s heart surgery here would have meant closing the paediatric intensive care unit. As Europe’s leading centre for cystic fibrosis, the Brompton attracts complex cases where children may require treatment in intensive care. The knock-on effects were not fully assessed, the report said.

Leeds General Infirmary

The big concern of families served by the Leeds centre was the extra travelling time to Newcastle. The report said the extra travel time involved had been underestimated and there would be a “disproportionate” impact on families in Yorkshire, Humberside and Lincolnshire. 

Glenfield Hospital, Leicester

The same surgeons carry out adult and paediatric heart surgery – so the closure of children’s services would threaten the future of adult services and risk continuity for adolescents. The report said a single review of adult and children’s heart surgery would have enabled “better solutions”.

Voices
voices
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
News
newsHad asteroid hit earlier or later in history, the creatures might have survived, say scientists
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    Data Analyst

    £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable software house is looking ...

    Application Support Analyst / Junior SQL Server DBA

    £40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established professional services...

    Commercial Litigation

    Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION SO...

    BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

    Day In a Page

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried