YORK lives will be put at risk if children’s heart surgery services are moved from Leeds, a top paediatric doctor has warned.

Dr Robin Ball, of York Hospital, said NHS proposals to move the heart surgery to Newcastle would be a “major problem” for the children of York and said it would put stress on hospital transport services.

He said York currently sends about ten extreme emergency cases a year to Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) for surgery as well as referring a “significant number” of the estimated 250 child heart cases which are seen in York each year.

He said: “Everybody realises that some reduction in the number of cardiac centres is desirable. But we would say that the closure of Leeds would be a major problem for children in York and North Yorkshire and would mean serious risk for children.”

Dr Ball was speaking as the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts (JCPCT) considers four options to reduce the number of centres where child heart surgery is performed under its Safe And Sustainable review.

It hopes to concentrate medical expertise and skilled surgeons in fewer centres, rather than having them spread over the current 11 hospitals.

Three of the four options involve the removal of services from Leeds, which could mean critically-ill children in York having to travel to Newcastle for surgery.

Dr Ball said: “A lot of these transfers are time critical; half an hour could mean the difference between life and death.

“There will be no benefit in Yorkshire and the Humber in moving these services to Newcastle.

“Leeds is probably the only place in the country where all the services are under one roof. Children’s heart surgery and the intensive care unit are all under one roof.”

The doctor is now urging parents throughout the region to write to their MPs and put pressure on them to keep surgery in LGI.

He said: “If the MPs see a lot of opposition over the plans, from parents and families, then there’s a chance it will get the decision put off rather than implementing this.”

Jeremy Glyde, Safe and Sustainable programme director at the JCPCT, said a “robust process” was being followed in the development of the recommendations for change.

“This process has been endorsed by the relevant professional associations and national heart charities,” he said.

“Based on the analyses of patient flows carried out to date, the JCPCT believes each of the proposed networks is potentially viable.

“Patient choice is of course an important factor to be considered. The review team will carry out further testing of the viability of each network, taking into account patient flows in the North, as part of the consultation.”

York Press: The Press comment

Think again on child heart unit

IF ever your child were in need of life-saving heart surgery, you would want to know he or she was in the best possible hands.

That is why, in one respect, it makes sense to concentrate paediatric heart surgery into a few centres of real excellence. Parents would know that the surgeons looking after their children were leading specialists.

That benefit must, however, be balanced by the risks of desperately ill children potentially having to travel further for life-saving surgery.

There have already been a number of voices raised in anxious protest at the prospect of the child heart surgery unit at Leeds General Infirmary being closed. This would see sick children from the York area having to travel to Newcastle or Liverpool instead.

The parents of four-year-old Cameron Scott have spoken out in support of a campaign to save the Leeds unit, arguing that without it their son might not have survived.

Now a leading children’s doctor at York Hospital has added his voice to that campaign, warning that lives will be put at risk if paediatric heart surgery is removed from Leeds.

Consultant paediatrician Robin Ball agrees that some reduction in the number of cardiac centres is desirable. But he believes that the closure of Leeds would be a major problem for children in York and North Yorkshire and could entail “serious risk”.

Serious risk for children. A man of Dr Ball’s stature does not say something like this lightly. For the sake of our children, his concerns must be taken very seriously indeed.

York Press: What do you think?