Parents across the Sleaford area are celebrating today (Thursday) after a Leicester children’s heart unit was saved from closure.
Residents faced having to take children with heart defects for treatment much further away at a Birmingham hospital if NHS England went ahead with its proposals to close the East Midlands Congenital Heart Centre at Glenfield Hospital.
It was felt that the unit would not meet health service guidelines to treat enough patients over the coming years to make it viable to continue.
But a campaign involving protest marches and a petition signed by 130,000 and delivered to 10 Downing Street, together with plans by the Leicester’s Hospitals trust to increase its workload convinced NHS England to keep it open.
John Adler, chief executive at Leicester’s Hospitals, said: “We are obviously delighted with the decision to continue commissioning EMCHC as a Level 1 congenital heart disease centre.
“The decision is a vote of confidence for our staff and service, and is great news for our NHS partners across the East Midlands network. “The future is now in our hands and this decision means that the clinical team can now focus on building a world class congenital heart service for people across the East Midlands and beyond.”
Karamjit Singh, chairman at Leicester’s Hospitals, added: “We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the East Midlands Congenital Heart Centre staff for their incredible resilience and hard work to achieve and more importantly maintain the level of quality and service over this difficult period.
“We would also like to acknowledge the fantastic support we have had from our stakeholders; patients, relatives, charities, local councils, NHS partners, MPs and media, their unwavering commitment has kept our spirits up during these uncertain times.”
Aidan Bolger, head of service for the East Midlands Congenital Heart Centre, said: “I am delighted by the decision made by the NHS England board today.
“It puts an end to years of uncertainty, and is a testament to the professionalism, energy and determination of all the EMCHC staff that have fought to ensure our service delivers the highest quality of care to meet the required standards.
“Patients in the East Midlands can now be assured that they have access to a Congenital Heart Disease centre of excellence, as close to home as possible, and we can continue to offer our internationally renowned ECMO and mobile ECMO service to the whole of the UK.
“I look forward to focussing all our energy on growing our service and delivering our plan with the confidence to attract and retain the best specialised staff possible and working with our network partners, and NHS Specialised Commissioning to make EMCHC the centre of choice for patients with congenital heart disease.”
In June, NHS England held a public consultation event for clinicians and residents locally on the proposals at the New Life Centre in Mareham Lane, Sleaford.
Heckington mum Zena Barclay had said her eight-year-old son may not have survived if his ordeal was played out again under the previous NHS proposals to reduce the number of hospitals in the country delivering surgery on heart defects from birth in children and adults.
The consultation panel had insisted input from patients, families and staff will help shape decisions. The proposals would have seen a shift to fewer, specialised hospitals where more operations would be done to ensure agreed levels of excellence, including teams of at least four surgeons each doing at least 125 procedures a year for greater experience.
William Alvey School teacher Mrs Barclay told how her son, Jack, now eight, may have died within 24 hours of being born in Pilgrim Hospital with an undiagnosed heart defect if it had not been for the proximity of a team from Leicester who risked driving in a snow storm to treat him.
On hearing the good news, she said her family were delighted: “The guaranteed quality and continuity of care at the closest possible location is such a relief. To know that Lincolnshire babies, like Jack, will have access to life saving treatment when they need it most, and to know that journey time will not put our babies at any greater risk, is a certainly cause for celebration.
“As a family, a community and a county we cannot thank the staff and supporters of Glenfield enough for their tireless campaigning to keep this excellent facility open. The knowledge that the staff expertise and skills base will not be lost to us is the best news possible.
“We are truly over the moon knowing that our family and others like us can be confident that our children will continue to receive the best possible care with the team that they trust. Thank you Glenfield for fighting this fight on behalf of all of the Mums and Dads who have children who are alive now due to your care, and who continue to thrive as a result of your excellent treatment.”