The five-year probe into the 10 existing units, which has already cost taxpayers more than £6million, will start all over again
The head of a major medical charity last today warned kids are at risk after a bid to improve children’s heart surgery collapsed.
Children’s Heart Federation chief Anne Keatley-Clarke hit out after the Government suspended reforms after ruling a review into overhauling Britain’s child heart surgery units had been “flawed”.
The five-year probe into the 10 existing units, which has already cost taxpayers more than £6million, will start all over again.
It means three threatened heart units will stay open for the time being … but will delay plans to overhaul the whole system.
Health Secretary Hunt’s ruling was welcomed by campaigners at the hospitals where units were under threat – but dismayed others who want services concentrated in fewer, better equipped, centres.
One, Mrs Keatley-Clarke, told the Daily Mirror: “The delay in improving paediatric cardiac surgery is unacceptable.
“It has gone on for years and years and is now putting lives of children at risk every day because the service is crumbling.
“It is widely acknowledged by doctors and parents that we need fewer specialist centres with more experts all in one place so children undergoing complex heart operations can get the best care.
“Jeremy Hunt needs to make reforming paediatric cardiac surgery a priority.”
Dr Hilary Cass, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, added: “The need for reconfiguration has never been more urgent.”
Following the scandal in which 35 babies died at Bristol Royal Infirmary in the 90s, it was recommended that child heart surgery be concentrated in a few specialist centres to ensure quality of care.
The Safe and Sustainable Review, launched in 2008, concluded child heart surgery should be concentrated in fewer hospitals.
But today Mr Hunt said its proposals to shut units in Leeds General Infirmary, Glenfield Hospital, Leicester and the Royal Brompton in west London “cannot go ahead in their current form.”
His decision follows an independent panel’s conclusion that the recommendation to close the units “was based on flawed analysis of incomplete proposals and their impact.”
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Hunt said: “This is clearly a serious criticism of the Safe and Sustainable process.
“I therefore accept that the proposals cannot go ahead in their current form and I’m suspending the review today.
“I know many families have found the Review to be a traumatic experience.
“People are rightly proud of the hospitals and the staff that have saved, or tried their best to save, the lives of their children.
“However, there is overwhelming consensus that we cannot stick with the model of care we have now.
“To do so would be a betrayal of the families who lost loved ones in Bristol.
“So it is right we continue with this process. But it is also essential that it is performed correctly.”
Prime Minister David Cameron added: “As the parent of a desperately ill child, wanting to get the best care for that child, you need to know that you’re getting something that is world-best.
“For really technical operations you can’t get that everywhere.
“Clearly the conclusion is that this process, which started in 2008, hasn’t been carried out properly so we need a restart.”
The Independent Review Panel today said “the case for change remains”.
The Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham supports a concentration of services in fewer centres, but stressed: “When it the review was published ….
“I expressed concerns about the distribution of the seven sites, skewed towards the western half of England and leaving a large swathe of the east, from Newcastle to London, without a surgical centre.
“For a family in Hull or Lincoln, already at their wits’ end with worry, the wrench of leaving home to travel hundreds of miles with the cost of accommodation and time off work would add to stress and anxiety.”
NHS England said it would “lead a rethink of plans” to improve children’s heart surgery.