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Plans to close children’s heart surgery services put on hold

Independent report backs reconfiguration, but says current plans are ‘flawed’

Caroline White

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Plans to streamline children’s heart surgery services and close three specialist units in Leeds, Leicester, and West London, have been put on hold after an independent report concluded the proposals were based on “flawed analysis.”

The report from the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP) is the latest twist in a tortuous tale of attempts to reconfigure children’s specialist heart surgery services in England, in a bid to boost safety and quality.

Last year, following public consultation, the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts (JCPCT), part of the Safe and Sustainable Review set up five years ago, ruled that expertise was spread too thinly, and that units at Leeds, Leicester, and West London should be closed, and concentrated in the 7 remaining units in England.

But the plans provoked widespread opposition from healthcare professionals and the public, prompting the health secretary to commission a further independent report from the IRP.

Their report, which was issued into the public domain yesterday, agreed that “congenital cardiac surgery and interventional cardiology should only be provided by specialist teams large enough to sustain a comprehensive range of interventions, round the clock care, training and research.”

But it also concluded that the JCPCT’s decision to implement the closures was “based on flawed analysis of incomplete proposals and their health impact, leaving too many questions about sustainability unanswered and to be dealt with as implementation risks.

The findings prompted health secretary Jeremy Hunt to call a halt to the plans, amid accusations that the NHS has wasted millions of pounds in the review process and still has not made any headway.

Speaking to the House of Commons yesterday, the health secretary said "[the report] 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."

He said the consultation, which has already cost more than £6m, did not have the confidence of the public as it had been felt the outcome was predetermined.

NHS England will now withdraw its appeal against the judicial review which quashed plans to close the unit in Leeds earlier this year, he added, but made it clear that the decision to halt the plans was not an endorsement of the status quo.

Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, Medical Director for NHS England said that the body welcomed the findings and would study the recommendations in full to learn from them. We will institute a new process that recognises the very strong case for redesigning services to meet the demands of the future whilst addressing the legitimate concerns in our local communities.”

Dr Jacqueline Cornish, National Clinical Director for Children and Young People for NHS England added: "It is essential that all those involved can learn lessons from the Safe and Sustainable Review and work purposefully and quickly together to find a new way forward in the shortest possible timescale. If we are not able to make progress swiftly, children will be the losers.”

She continued: "We want to build consensus…so we will take the time to listen before coming up with a new proposition, working with patients, clinicians and the providers of services. We intend to announce a new way forward in the autumn, with plans for implementation within 12 months.”

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