People have had their say on how children’s heart services are provided across England and Wales, with proposals including pooling surgical expertise into fewer, bigger centres, developing congenital heart networks to bring care closer to home, and new national quality standards.
Individuals and organisations who responded to last year’s consultation said overwhelmingly that quality should be a key factor when future services are being planned. There was also strong support for developing congenital heart networks, which would provide assessment and ongoing care closer to home, with 75 per cent backing this proposal.
And individuals and organisations also supported the idea of centres that no longer provided surgery becoming children’s cardiology centres instead. There was also approval for improvements to analysis and reporting of mortality and morbidity rates.
Another suggestion, that the number of London-based specialist surgical centres should be reduced from three to two, was backed by three quarters of those who responded. While just under half of respondents from London backed the idea of having two centres, some in northern England thought just one centre in the capital would be enough.
The UK-wide consultation attracted high levels of responses from those in the south central regions. Respondents were given four options to choose from for the location and number of hospitals providing children’s heart services in the future.
Sir Neil McKay, Chair of the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts which carried out the review, said: "The scale of the response confirms the importance of ensuring excellent NHS care for children with congenital heart disease. I am heartened by the overwhelming support for the quality standards. Implementing these new standards will improve the quality of care children receive."
Implementation of any changes to children's congenital heart services is expected to start in 2013. A detailed implementation plan was due to be developed once a final decision has been made this year.
Congenital heart disease in children is present in around six out of every 1,000 newborn babies, or 4,600 babies born in the UK every year. Problems can take the form of holes between the chambers of the heart, blockages in the pathways between the heart and the lungs or other parts of the body, or abnormal connections between the heart’s chambers and vessels.
Diagnosis can be made by scans taken during pregnancy, or after the birth. The good news is that, with a range of treatment options now available, heart surgery and transplants are only needed in the severest cases, and, while this may not have been the case 50 years ago, most babies with congenital heart disease today will thrive into adulthood.