Fight to save Leeds Children's Heart unit will go on
THE threat to the Leeds Children's Heart Surgery Unit has been debated twice in Westminster over the last three weeks, as well as the unit at Leicester.
Though the Leeds unit has received more attention in the Grimsby and Cleethorpes area, both are important.
I have received representations from parents and grandparents in respect of both. They are established centres of excellence.
The experts – the medical professionals – are overwhelming in their view that only bigger units are sustainable; only bigger units provide the "critical mass" of operations that ensure the highest level of expertise can be maintained.
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As the minister pointed out in her response it is now possible to operate on babies with a heart the size of a walnut which, of course, needs the highest possible level of expertise.
So, what happens if the further review by another panel of experts comes up with the same conclusion? They may disagree of course, experts often do. But, assuming they come to the same conclusion, why should the minister disagree?
To answer that question is the challenge we face. The arguments must be based on evidence not an emotional response, understandable though that may be.
My colleagues and I have time and again raised the flawed consultation and the views of the health professionals based in Leeds which differ from the panel that produced the closure recommendation.
Of particular concern to residents in our area, which is farthest from the unit, is the distance involved in visiting loved ones. I have repeatedly pointed out to ministers that I believe parents from this area would not travel to Newcastle and, as a result, that unit would not reach the required 400 operations annually; the future of that unit would then be called into question.
In the Leeds debate, I expressed disappointment at the minister's reply to the Leicester debate. I felt she was being sucked into a typical civil service response. It is the politician's job to arbitrate between competing interests in society – in this case those interests are experts in their field but the voice of those families that have benefited from the expertise at Leeds and Leicester must be heard.
As I said when concluding my speech: "In Leeds we have a centre of excellence. It deserves our support, and already has the support of those we represent. I am sure that the Minister and the Secretary of State would not want to be responsible for destroying it."
The campaign continues...