Children's Heart Surgery Units At Risk
3:04am 1st July 2011
(Updated 7:03pm 1st July 2011)
A string of hospitals may be forced to stop children's heart surgery following a controversial consultation on NHS services.
More than 60,000 people have responded to a four-month review into the highly-specialised area.
The NHS organisation behind the consultation said operations were safer if smaller units close and resources were concentrated in larger centres.
It said surgical teams needed to perform at least 400 operations to keep up their skills - but patients and clinicians have mounted fierce opposition to the plans.
England currently has 11 hospitals that do children's heart surgery.
Oxford has already stopped operations but Newcastle, Leeds, Leicester, Southampton and London's Royal Brompton hospitals are also under threat.
Southampton General Hospital ranks second in the country for the quality of its heart care, but it only does 350 operations a year, so its unit could be forced to close.
Surgeon Mr Marcus Haw told Sky News the threshold of 400 operations was not supported by the latest research.
"Some of the biggest centres have the worst results; some of the smallest have the best results. There was a complete mixture," he said.
"What it underlines is that this specialty is about the human beings around the baby. It's not about the numbers."
Cardiac surgeon Mr Leslie Hamilton, who is part of the NHS Safe and Sustainable review, said surgical skills are spread too thinly around the country.
He said: "It's absolutely not about saving money.
"In fact this review will cost money, because there will be some investment in the units that will continue the surgery in the future.
"It is about providing the highest quality of care for children with heart disease."
The final decision on which units should stop surgery will be made in the autumn.