Thursday, 13 June 2013

A lawyer writes - again



Well, it had to happen the health secretary has postponed the decision about closing children’s heart surgery units – I think the lawyers have stepped in. In the meantime he has dropped the appeal against the Leeds campaign’s victory in the High Court

I wrote about this a lot around Easter, when NHS England suspended paediatric heart operations at Leeds General –saying it was too dangerous to continue, the day after campaigners had won their case in the High Court – when the original decision to close the unit was declared unlawful. Convenient timing.

Everyone backtracked after all the bad publicity – operations restarted after a week.

It was all about Hospitals keeping income coming in, careers, money, prestige, not about kiddies heart operations. It still is. Hospitals and heart units are competing with eachother.

What should be happening is the setting up of a new, world class national unit, centrally placed, employing the best of the best and dealing with the most difficult cases. This would then become a centre of excellence for the speciality.

Then, around the country there could be a number of satellite units, doing more routine operations – funnelling the serious stuff up to the national centre, staff moving back and forth to learn in a spirit of co-operation.

OK, I’m ill and I’m fantasising. Ego rules, money talks, kids take second place. In fact this whole process the “Safe and sustainable” review has taken 5 years, got nowhere, has cost over £6 million – considering, consulting, going to court, faffing about.

Oh, by the way, the real reason why the Health Secretary has made this decision – he’s stopped for all these extra consultations so that no one can take him to court about this again. He’s already made up his mind.

Here’s the Guardian article;

Denis Campbell, health correspondent, Wednesday 12 June 2013 13.46 BST     

Jeremy Hunt has suspended controversial plans to shut three children's heart surgery units after a report from the government's advisers on hospital services voiced serious criticisms.

The health secretary's decision means a reprieve for the units at the Leeds General Infirmary, Leicester's Glenfield hospital and the Royal Brompton hospital in London.

But it delays further plans to centralise these specialist life-saving services for children with congenital heart problems, which are supported by most medical bodies and were first proposed in 2001 in the official report into the Bristol heart surgery scandal of the 1990s.

Announcing the suspension in the Commons on Wednesday, Hunt told MPs that a review of the plans by the advisory independent reconfiguration panel (IRP) had concluded that the closure plan agreed by the NHS's joint committee of primary care trusts "was based on flawed analysis of incomplete proposals and their health impact, leaving too many questions about sustainability unanswered and to be dealt with as implementation risks."

Campaigners have mounted a legal challenge to the loss of the unit in Leeds, arguing that the process leading to it was flamed and that families across a large swath of England, especially Yorkshire and the Humber, would be faced with long journeys to Newcastle or Liverpool for their child to receive cardiac surgery or interventional cardiology.

Debate about where these services should be sited has continued since 2001 and in the last two years has involved two major reviews, significant protests and high court action to stop the planned closures in Leeds and London.

A public consultation yielded 75,000 responses – the biggest consultation ever undertaken by the NHS. Hunt gave NHS England until the end of July to come up with a new way forward.

He wrote to them to say that "the IRP's report shows that the proposals of the safe and sustainable review clearly cannot go ahead in their current form," he told parliament.

Suspension of the plans was necessary, he said, given that the IRP had made "clearly a serious criticism" of the joint committee of primary care trusts' review, which reported last year.

It recommended that the need to deliver the highest possible standard of care to such medically vulnerable children meant the number of paediatric heart surgery units in England should shrink from 11 to seven and the NHS should develop more specialist non-surgical services for such patients closer to their homes.

And this all happened (didn’t happen) because of a real scandal at Bristol, twenty years ago. Have a look at ‘The Good Doctor’, 7/4/13, my Blog entry about Dr Stephen Bolsin – the hero of the story, the whistleblower who exposed what happened all those years ago.

Neil Harris

(a don’t stop till you drop production)

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