Health secretary orders review of heart unit threat

Glenfield Hospital Image copyright PA
Image caption A review of NHS plans to stop children's heart surgery at Glenfield, and two other hospitals, has been ordered by the Health Secretary

We'll stick to this issue like a barnacle. That was response of Harborough MP Edward Garnier at the end of a remarkable Parliamentary debate.

It was about the future of Glenfield Hospital's specialist children's heart unit in Leicester.

The former Solicitor General will have 103,000 reasons. That was the number of people who signed an online Parliamentary petition to trigger the debate.

A succession of East Midland MPs were in cross-party unison in talking up the need to retain Glenfield.

The NHS "Safe and Sustainable" cardiac review for children's services in England has been under way for three-and-a-half years. It proposed closing the Glenfield unit; its patients and neonatal and paediatric ECMO services being transferred to Birmingham.

Specialist staff

ECMO? That stands for "extracorporeal membrane oxygenation".

In medical shorthand, it's world class kit that helps critically ill patients - especially children with heart defects - to breathe.

Glenfield has an ECMO and more importantly, the specialist staff to run it.

"The Glenfield ECMO unit has the best results in the world," Edward Garnier told MPs.

"It has more expertise and success than any other ECMO unit in the country. We have four national centres for ECMO, and the ideal scenario would be to maintain ECMO services in their current locations," he added.

The debate heard of Glenfield's success: 15% more children with serious heart illness survive at Glenfield than the national average. Population trends showed how demand for Glenfield's specialist ECMO will increase.

"It seems absolutely crazy that my constituents cannot continue to use Glenfield hospital, where so much expertise has been created over a number of years," said the Mid Derbyshire Conservative MP Pauline Latham.

Hint of victory?

MPs had been encouraged by the decision - announced hours before the debate - by the new Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt for a further review.

From now until the end of next February, there will be a further look at the original independent report which suggested reducing the number of children's surgical centres from 11 to seven.

It was that report which proposed making the Birmingham Children's Hospital a centre of excellence for the whole of the Midlands, with Glenfield being downgraded.

One West Midlands MP - Solihull's Liberal Democrat Lorely Burt - spoke up for Birmingham... and Glenfield.

"The type of expertise that we have in Leicester should be replicated in other parts of the United Kingdom," she told MPs.

Image caption The debate was held after more than 100,000 people signed a petition against the plans for Glenfield

So is the new review a hint of a victory for the Glenfield campaigners? Not quite. The health secretary's intervention doesn't appear to affect a previous decision over Glenfield's ECMO.

In the Westminster Hall debate, MPs warned Glenfield can't have its specialist children's heart unit without its ECMO.

"The review has failed fully to consider the clinical implications of moving services from Glenfield, particularly the children's ECMO service," said Liz Kendall, the MP for Leicester West and a member of Labour's health team.

"I fear that that mistake is about to be repeated."

MPs attempted to clarify the situation as the new health minister Anna Soubry, also an East Midlands' MP, replied to the debate.

"It is important to make it clear that no one is saying that a good service is not being provided, or that a service is bad or poor," she told the MPs.

"The issue is all about ensuring that we get the very best service in fewer but bigger centres."

Over the next few months of this further review, that's where the health and political debate will concentrate minds. Watch out for those barnacles.