Leeds Childrens Heart Surgery Unit

Fabian demands that children's heart surgery remains in Leeds

Fabian has joined the many thousands of people campaigning to protect children's heart surgery at Leeds General Infirmary. "I have looked at the arguments being put forward for its closure as part of a rationalisation scheme and they are not plausible. I have also met some of my constituents with sick children who are inextricably caught up in the fight to protect the unit and they are very distressed."

A young child needing care

Typical of the many children whose families are greatly worried about the proposed closure, is young Lyall Cookward who is cared for by his parents Steph Ward and Sharron Cook. They live in Chapel Allerton in Fabian's constituency. Lyall, now aged 21 months has Down's Syndrome, a congenital heart defect and respiritory failure.

Over his short life he has needed no fewer than 8 major operations or medical procedures, including 2 lots of heart surgery, and has spent a total of 10 months in hospital. Not only has Lyall needed complex heart operations, he has had surgery on his stomach, 2 bronchoscopies, a tracheostomy and other associated procedures. Following his second heat surgery he spent six months in intensive care as he developed a rare breathing condition. He is dependent upon a ventilator 24 hours each day which provides his breathing through a tracheostomy. Without this assistance his trachea and bronchi collapse down and he is unable to breath. Lyall's future is uncertain but as his heart and lungs get stronger, perhaps he will be able to dispense with his ventilator.

Lyall's case highlights the arguments that surround the controversy about the proposed changes to children's hear surgery. He has needed multiple experts to be on hand and could not have possibly been moved from one hospital to another to see different specialists during his periods of surgery. Closing the unit in Leeds will be a disaster for Lyall. The issue is not so much the travelling, although this is a factor for Steph and Sharron; what matters most is the availability of multiple expertise in the same hospital to be able to meet Lyall's many needs.

Fabian analyses the arguments

The provision of highly specialised hospital services is a complex issue and particularly so in the case of children's heart surgery. All parents would like treatment carried out in a local centre where they can more easily provide the support their children need. Childrens heart surgery is extremely delicate and complex requiring teams of specialist doctors and nurses who are fully trained and experienced. As, thankfully, the number of cases to be treated nationally is relatively small, that inevitably means thate there will only be a few centres in the country where such expertise can be assembled. It is not just a question of having a specialist consultant or two on the staff. A hopital must have resilience in its personnel at all levels so that treatment can continue unaffected by such issues as staff illness, job vacancies and staff leave. Children requiring treatment for heart defects also suffer from other serious conditions and so in whatever hospital they are cared for, there must be a wide range of other specialisms available. It means children's heart surgery units have to be located in large hospitals with multiple skills.

Locating regional centres in the UK is not an easy choice for any organisation. In the South East there are too many people for every service to be located in London and transport is not easy. In the North of England there are fewer larger population centres and distances are greater. The main cities are Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Hull, Leeds and Newcastle. The arguments in favour of a few specialised centres for children's heart surgery indicate that two are justified and sustainable in the North of England. I am not qualified to contest that proposal and must trust specialist medical opinion. I am, however, very confident to argue for some common sense to be applied about where these two centres should be sited.

Looking at the map of the North of England, the choice of Liverpool and Newcastle appears bizarre as they are both at the extremities of the region. That will mean more travel for most patients and their families and it is no surprise that there have been so many protests about the illogical suggestion to close the unit at Leeds General Infirmary. I do not want to get involved with arguments about the other location but I would have thought that choosing Manchester and Leeds would be the optimum locations for sites which were convenient for the largest number of potential families. Leeds General Infirmary, together with nearby St James, can boast to being one of the best centres in the country for medical expertise and treatment and it seems totally illogical to suggest that Newcastle can be a better place to concentrate children's heart surgery.

I have to ask how and why the proposal that Leeds should close in favour of Newcastle came to be tabled.

  1. Why is a committee of the Joint Primary Care Trusts being asked to put forward the proposals? These are the very trusts being abolished. We need a clear political input from local politicians and the Health Minister to fully represent the public interest.
  2. Are wrong assumptions being made about the capacity in Leeds to undertake an extended range of heart surgery cases?
  3. Surely it cannot be argued seriously that Newcastle will be a more convenient transport destination for the population of West, North and South Yorkshire who would need to travel so far north.
  4. Have existing patients' families been appropriately consulted? The formal consultation document I am told comprises no fewer than 220 pages!!
  5. Can the supporters of the Newcastle proposal demonstrate that their idea meets the standards for location of services established by the British Congenital Cardiac Association?
  6. In making their receommendations, do the Joint Primary Care Trusts have access to a full range of professional advice from expert professionals who can dispassionately assess the merits of different proposals?

Fabian calls for common sense to prevail

I know that the final decision will not please everyone. What has to be avoided is a decision that is not transparent and one that defies common sense. The whole community, particularly the parents of children with heart problems from all around the North of England, must be confident that decisions are reached for the right reasons. At the moment they do not have such confidence; nor do I.That is why I am adding my name to the list of those protesting about the proposed ending of work in Leeds. My heart goes out to Steph and Sharron who are caring for Lyall. To see the work at Leeds continue is the best reassurance we can give them that they will be supported as they bring up Lyall and help him to cope with his many problems.

Steph and Sharron at home with their family - including Lyall