Minister rejects concerns over child heart care

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HEALTH Secretary Andrew Lansley has rejected claims by councillors in Yorkshire of inadequate consultation over controversial plans to reconfigure children’s heart surgery services.

Hundreds of youngsters from the region could face travelling to Liverpool, Newcastle or the Midlands for heart surgery under moves that could see full services axed in Leeds.

Councillors from the region’s Joint Health and Overview Scrutiny Committee complained in October to Mr Lansley that they had been inadequately consulted ahead of a deadline for a formal response to the plans.

Among their concerns was that they had not received a report into travel times to neighbouring units before making their final report.

But Mr Lansley rejected their complaints after accepting the conclusions of the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP) which said it did not believe the case was suitable for review although it did make a series of criticisms of the consultation process which is being led by national NHS bosses.

In a letter, IRP chairman Peter Barrett said two reports requested by the committee were either unavailable or not relevant.

But he said the report over travel flows should have been available “at a much earlier stage”. Councillors and others should be able to give their views on its findings before health chiefs made their final decision.

He said it was “disappointing” there had been breakdowns in communications and relationships between councillors and the NHS officials involved.

“It is interesting to note that, in spite of the comprehensive and detailed content of the formal consultation document, there still appears to be some misunderstanding about how the future model of care will work,” he added.

In rejecting the complaints, Mr Lansley said he expected health chiefs to continue to engage with councillors but accepted the IRP’s advice he believed was “in the interests of the local health service”.

Councillor Lisa Mulherin, chair of the scrutiny committee, said the response was “disappointing” and she still believed the consultation was “flawed”.

“Whilst he upholds our view that the incorrect assumptions made about travel and access should have been tested much earlier and acknowledges the difficulties the committee had in getting the decision-makers to engage in scrutiny of the process, his response does not satisfactorily address the other concerns we referred to him,” she said.

“I remain convinced that the other matters highlighted by our committee were essential to inform the public consultation and ensure that an informed response could in turn influence the future provision of children’s congenital heart surgery.”

Sir Neil McKay, chairman of the joint committee of primary care trusts which will make recommendations over heart surgery, welcomed the advice.

“I am pleased that the external assessment shows that we have consulted appropriately with Yorkshire and Humber joint overview and scrutiny committee,” he said. “As this is a complex national review we provided all overview and scrutiny bodies seven months to consider our proposals and to provide their feedback, however I fully recognise that individual overview and scrutiny committees face considerable pressures in responding to consultations of this nature.”

The decision has been delayed pending a Court of Appeal hearing but is expected this year.