Uncertainty over children’s heart surgery back again

Sir Alan Beith MP.

Sir Alan Beith MP.

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A successful high court appeal has again cast doubts over the future of a specialist children’s heart surgery unit in the North East.

The Government wanted children’s heart surgery to be performed at seven of the 10 hospitals that previously offered the service, so care could be concentrated at fewer sites to improve standards.

And in July last year, it was announced that the children’s heart unit at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital was to remain open. Its closure would have meant a trip to Leeds for Northumberland residents.

But last week, a campaign group wanting to save surgery at Leeds General Infirmary, who argued that the the consultation process leading up to the changes was unfair and procedurally flawed, won its legal battle at the High Court.

Following the outcome, Sir Neil McKay CB, chairman of the joint committee of primary care trusts, said: “I am very disappointed with the court’s decision.

“The pressing need to reform children’s heart services is long overdue and experts have cautioned that further delay in achieving the necessary change would be a major setback in improving outcomes for children with heart disease.

“We do not yet know what the court will decide in terms of next steps. We are making representations to the court that it should not quash the decision in its entirety as the claimant seeks. Once we have the court’s judgment on this point we will strongly consider the possibility of appeal.”

MP Sir Alan Beith said: “This legal ruling will bring more uncertainty about the decision in which Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital was chosen as the northern centre for children’s heart surgery on very strong medical grounds, and, in the process which will now have to take place, it is medical grounds which must determine the outcome.”