Hospitals throughout the UK with the ability to perform vital heart operations for children are set to learn their fate on Wednesday.
At the request of national parent groups, NHS clinicians and their associations, a review was carried out among the specialist child heart units.
In order to determine the level of care patients are receiving, the NHS conducted a broad analysis across all ten heart units.
The ‘safe and sustainable’ review engaged with partners across the NHS to understand the benefits in the heart care departments. More importantly, the review assessed standards to understand how each department could be improved.
Throughout the course of the inspection, developing standards have been at the forefront of the assessment. Working with the public and the staff associated with the NHS, these surgical centres have been assessed on how well they perform and what level of care they have provided.
The NHS is also looking to expand its network model of care, ensuring every cardiology unit in the country is operating at a high level of efficiency.
Broadening the review, the standards set by the NHS will be independently reviewed by an expert panel chaired by Professor Sir Ian Kennedy.
This will provide an overall assessment of the level of care the NHS heart unit provide, as well as identifying areas that are excelling, and areas that need to be improved.
These standards also include the specialist heart units’ accessibility to the public, including transport links and parking.
Surgeons too widely spread
The review was carried out due to fear of staff shortages, and specialist surgeons being spread too thinly. Part of the report has already suggested that surgery should be concentrated on fewer sites.
The hospitals that house the heart units will still be kept open, continuing to diagnose and monitor treatment for patients.
Hospitals in Leeds, Leicester, Newcastle, Southampton, Bristol and London are housing the heart units that are under threat.
Professor Sir Ian Kennedy has commented on the review, stating that change is needed to offer the best possible service.
Over 3,600 operations are performed every year on children born with heart defects and other ailments. There is wide spread agreement from surgeons and the medical community alike that the specific skill set heart surgeons have is too spread out across the country.
Furthermore, in order to provide a service that will benefit patients, heart operations need to be concentrated in fewer, larger centres to enable surgeons to share their skills and improve.
Concerns about child heart surgery can be traced back to the 1990s, where many children being treated at a Bristol hospital were deemed to have died needlessly.
Oxford’s John Radcliff hospital ceased child heart surgery as early as 2010 after a number of deaths were recorded.
The Royal College of Surgeons, Children’s Heart Foundation and Cardiothoracic Surgery have all expressed the need for stopping the specialist heart surgery at some of the UK sites, however this has not stopped opposition including parents and MPs voicing their concerns.
A decision regarding the future of the specialist children’s heart units is expected to be announced on Wednesday.
This guest post was written on behalf of Nuffield Health Careers.