Children's heart unit review delayed once more

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A review into children's heart units has been delayed again, the government has said.

In July 2012 it was decided care should be concentrated at fewer, larger sites, but that plan was scrapped.

A new review due to get under way next month had been put back until "later this year", Health Minister Jane Ellison said.

Newcastle East MP Nick Brown, fighting to save services at the city's Freeman Hospital, has criticised the delay.

Changes were first proposed in 2001 in the official report into the Bristol heart surgery scandal of the 1990s, which saw more than 30 babies die as a result of sub-standard care.

The 2012 call to concentrate services on seven centres rather than 10 was dropped after it was ruled the consultation process was flawed.

It would have seen services end at Leeds General Infirmary as well as units in west London and Leicester.

'Always frustrating'

Speaking in the House of Commons, Ms Ellison admitted it was "always frustrating" when schedules were not kept to but described it as a "really important" and comprehensive review that needed to be carried out transparently and correctly.

Labour MP Mr Brown told the Commons the delay would create further uncertainty.

He said: "In the 2001 review of the Bristol children's heart unit, Professor Sir Ian Kennedy clearly stated that England needed a smaller number of centres of excellence to undertake the complex, highly skilled procedures involved.

"No-one has refuted his arguments, but, 13 years later, we are no closer to achieving the outcome that he said was desirable."

John Holden, director of systems policy for NHS England, said the organisation was now targeting mid-September as the earliest possible date, although even that would be "very challenging".

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The 2012 review recommended surgery at seven specialist centres:
  • Great Ormond Street, London
  • Evelina Children's Hospital, London
  • Newcastle's Freeman Hospital
  • Birmingham Children's Hospital
  • Alder Hey, Liverpool
  • The Royal Children's Hospital, Bristol
  • Southampton General
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