Health watchdog calls on Government to block heart unit's closure

First published in News

A YORKSHIRE health watchdog has urged the Health Secretary not to approve the closure of children's heart surgery at a Leeds unit which treats seriously-ill youngsters from York.

The NHS recommended in July that surgery at Leeds General Infirmary should stop so paediatric heart services could be concentrated at other centres, but this would mean young patients from York having a much longer journey to Newcastle.

A campaign against the changes, which were agreed by the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts' decision, led to a mass demonstration in Leeds and a petition signed by 600,000 people. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has ordered a review of the committee's decision, while the Save Our Surgery group filed for permission for a judicial review. Despite the group wanting to suspend this action pending an independent panel's ruling, it has been told it must go ahead.

The Yorkshire and Humber Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee has now made a formal submission to Mr Hunt which says the proposals will mean "substantially worse" services for children throughout Yorkshire. North Yorkshire County Council member Jim Clark, who chairs the authority's health scrutiny committee, said North Yorkshire would suffer a "particularly adverse impact".

"Transport links are an issue in many parts of what is an extremely large rural county," he said.

"If the paediatric coronary service is removed from Leeds, very many people in North Yorkshire will be left with the prospect of having to travel long distances to get the healthcare to which they are entitled. The Leeds unit is a highly-valued resource and its closure would be a serious blow for the whole of Yorkshire."

Sir Neil McKay, the chairman of the committee which made the heart surgery decision, has previously said patients had been waiting too long for changes to be made, and the move would "ensure high-quality sustainable services for the future". He has said it will allow the "pooling of surgical expertise" and "clinicians will save more children's lives", adding that the proposals had been backed by professional organisations and national charities.

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