Demo against Leeds children's heart surgery plan

Campaigners said the journey to the unit in Newcastle was too long

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Thousands of people have taken part in a demonstration against plans to end children's heart surgery in Leeds.

A review concluded Leeds General Infirmary should stop surgery so care could be concentrated at fewer sites.

Parents, children, hospital staff and politicians took part in a march through the city centre, starting and ending at Millennium Square.

The action comes the day before Yorkshire's health watchdog meets to consider its response to the decision.

The official review ruled that units at Leeds, Leicester's Glenfield Hospital and London's Royal Brompton should stop surgery after concluding expertise was spread too thinly across the health service.

If surgery ends in Leeds, families from Yorkshire and the Humber region will instead have to travel to Newcastle or Liverpool.

'Not right'

Sharon Cheng, director of the Children's Heart Surgery Fund, said about 3,000 people had taken part in the demonstration.

She said: "I'm overwhelmed - the strength of the turnout and the families and the patients. We've had people join us who are not connected to the unit, which speaks volumes."

Ms Cheng said they had been campaigning for the unit for 18 months and 600,000 people had signed a petition opposing the removal of children's heart surgery from the hospital.

Protesters in Leeds Traffic was halted as campaigners marched through the city centre

"We understand why larger, fewer centres would make sense but you have to put them where the population is," she said.

"This centre is keeping these people safe. That's the bottom line here."

Steph Ward, from Leeds, whose son Lyall was treated at the Leeds unit, said: "The point of this march is to show the decision-makers that actually we don't accept it, we don't accept the decision.

"It's not right for the people of Yorkshire, it's not right for kids like my son, and we haven't given up and we will fight this all the way."

MPs Stuart Andrew, Hilary Benn, Greg Mulholland and Ed Balls were among those taking part in the march.

'Huge loyalty'

Mr Mulholland, Liberal Democrat MP for Leeds North West, said the turnout for the demonstration was "amazing".

He added: "This is a terrible decision and needs to be reversed."

Sir Roger Boyle, the former national clinical director for heart disease and stroke, was one of the experts advising the review.

He said: "I recognise that people have shown a huge loyalty for the hospital in Leeds but pooling surgical expertise means the clinical community can work together, develop new techniques and deliver improved care to keep more children with complex heart conditions alive.

"The NHS was right to make a decision to expand services and improve the quality of care for children with complex heart conditions by pooling surgical expertise in fewer larger centres. The decision will improve clinical outcomes and save more children's lives in the future."

Sir Roger added that Leeds General Infirmary would continue to play a vital role providing cardiology services to children.

The Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which represents 15 local authorities across Yorkshire and the Humber region, will hear from patients, parents, surgeons and Sir Neil McKay, chairman of the panel which made the decision.

At the end of Tuesday's public meeting the committee could choose to refer the matter to the secretary of state for health, who would then make a final decision.

Councillor John Illingworth, chairman of the committee, said: "This a hugely important decision which needs to be discussed fully, so I would encourage as many people as possible to attend this public meeting to help ensure that local feelings are expressed and understood."

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