Travel ordeal fears for children in region needing heart surgery

CHILDREN with life-threatening heart problems could face travelling miles out of the region for vital surgery under a national review of care.

The Safe and Sustainable review aims to improve care for 3,600 youngsters who each year need major heart operations by centralising treatment in a smaller number of specialist hospitals.

But the Yorkshire Post understands that of four configuration options so far drawn up, only one has a continuing place for surgery in Yorkshire at Leeds Children's Hospital.

A final decision will be taken in July but if services in Leeds are axed, youngsters face journeying hundreds of miles to and from other units, potentially including Newcastle, Liverpool and Birmingham.

About 300 children undergo surgery in Leeds each year, but any change would also affect hundreds more with heart problems who often require operations for other conditions since they could no longer be safely treated in the city.

It would also be a heavy blow for the children's hospital following the centralisation of care on one site only last year.

Pudsey Tory MP Stuart Andrew, who is to host a Westminster reception to back children's heart services in Leeds, said: "I cannot emphasise enough how wonderful this facility is and how much families of children really value it and we want to do all we can to keep it in our area. It really would be a retrograde step if families had to travel all the way say to Newcastle."

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust's medical director, Dr Peter Belfield, said: "We firmly believe we have an excellent and well- established service with good clinical outcomes and an extremely committed team of doctors, nurses and health professionals who serve children and families across Yorkshire and the Humber.

"The facility is also well placed to expand to carry out a higher number of operations annually if required. Geographically, we believe Leeds is in an ideal location for this type of facility ,with nearly 14 million people within a two-hour drive of the hospital."

A Safe and Sustainable spokesman said no decisions had been taken. A full public consultation is due to start on February 28.