‘More pressure needed’ on chiefs over children’s heart services

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CAMPAIGNERS are calling for the Yorkshire public to put further pressure on health chiefs over plans to reconfigure children’s heart surgery services.

Under a major reconfiguration of services, heart surgery could be axed at Leeds Children’s Hospital and patients forced to travel to Newcastle, Liverpool or the Midlands for treatment.

An independent panel last week criticised health chiefs for delays in publishing a report into travel times to neighbouring units which found many patients from the region would not travel to the North East for treatment – although it rejected an appeal by Yorkshire councillors for Health Secretary Andrew Lansley to investigate the entire review process.

The findings over travel times are crucial since the Newcastle unit needs to carry out at least 400 procedures a year, otherwise it will not be considered viable.

Campaigners from the Leeds-based Children’s Heart Surgery Fund warned yesterday that if Newcastle was forced to close because it was failing to carry out enough operations, it would leave patients across a large part of the UK travelling even further for treatment.

Pudsey MP Stuart Andrew, who backs the campaign, said the research on patient flows should have been available much earlier. The findings backed up evidence that patients and their families from Yorkshire would not travel to the units health chiefs had envisaged in original reconfiguration proposals.

“This would mean that Newcastle would not reach the minimum number of surgical procedures which the review has set out as necessary... I am fearful that this would mean that Newcastle would inevitably close, leaving the North of England with only one centre.”

Fund director Sharon Cheng added: “Research clearly shows that many people across the region would not travel to the Newcastle unit if Leeds was forced to close.”