There are currently ten hospitals in England that perform child heart surgery and approximately 3,600 operations are carried out each year on children born with heart defects.
However, groups including the Royal College of Surgeons, The Society of Cardiothoracic Surgery and The Children Heart Federation all agree that to provide a high quality, and safe service, expertise needs to be concentrated in fewer units where surgeons will carry out more operations.
Amid fears that expertise is being spread too thinly, it has been announced that the number of hospitals providing child heart surgery will be reduced to seven.
Yesterday's decision means there will be seven surgical centres at the Freeman Hospital, Newcastle, Alder Hey Hospital, Liverpool, Birmingham Children's Hospital, Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, Southampton General, and in London at Great Ormond Street Hospital and Evelina Children's Hospital (at St Thomas').
The official review concluded the units at Leicester's Glenfield Hospital, Leeds General Infirmary and London's Royal Brompton should stop surgery.
However, the hospitals that have been told to stop child heart surgery will remain open and will continue to see patients for diagnosis, monitoring and non-surgical treatment.
Reducing the number of children’s heart surgery centres was first suggested in the 1990s when dozens of children in Bristol died unnecessarily after failed surgical procedures. Surgery at Oxford’s John Radcliffe was also stopped in 2010 following the death of four babies.
Professor Ian Kennedy, who has been involved in the review, said change was a necessity, “The aim is to concentrate surgery in larger, fewer centres as part of a wider network of services. It is the case now that we have mediocrity in our surgical centres rather than excellence across the board."
Mike Farrar, Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, believes that “the NHS can save the lives of children by centralising expertise in fewer specialist centres where care will be of a higher standard.
“Given the full facts, every parent would surely choose for their child a surgeon who treats similar patients on a very regular basis.”
By clinical negligence solicitor, Tom Mooney