Children’s heart surgery: campaigners can celebrate, but knife must be wielded

 

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Is this a victory? Or defeat? It depends which way you look at it. The Leeds campaigners are celebrating – understandably.

How substantial their victory turns out to be waits upon the decision of Mrs Justice Davies, who later this month will announce what the remedy for the procedural flaws in the consultation process will be.

Meanwhile, reform of children’s heart surgery, which all sides in this unhappy dispute agree is urgently needed, has suffered another unwelcome setback. At best, yesterday’s decision means further delay. At worst (though this is less likely), it could derail the whole process.

Even the Leeds campaigners concede that some specialist units for children’s heart surgery must close, in line with the recommendations in the 2011 Kennedy report, in order that the remaining ones will see sufficient cases to maintain their surgeons’ expertise.

Just don’t close ours, they say.

It is easy to sympathise. Few subjects are more emotive than a child in need of life-saving surgery. If that child were yours and it was your centre that was threatened, you too might take up the banner and march.

But this cannot disguise the nimbyism that is at the centre of this campaign. We saw it first with the Royal Brompton, which led to an expensive delay. Now the Leeds centre has joined the protest.

Whatever the outcome, the closures must go ahead. The lives of children depend on them. It will mean the loss of a much-loved local service and longer journey times for some families, which is a matter of great regret. But better a live child at the end of the journey than one who dies for lack of the right expertise.

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