Minister offers hope for heart unit campaigners
HEALTH Secretary Andrew Lansley has offered campaigners fighting to save the region's children's heart surgery unit a lifeline.
As reported, heart surgery at the children's unit in Leeds is under threat as part of a review of such surgery in England, which aims to deliver a service with fewer, larger centres.
Four options have been put forward for consultation, however, only one option features the retention of the unit at Leeds General Infirmary – a centre used and supported by many North East Lincolnshire patients and their families.
A consultation ended at the beginning of July last year, with the joint committee of primary care trusts expected to make a final decision today.
Ministers have repeatedly said the decision is not theirs to make, stressing the independence of the committee.
But yesterday, Mr Lansley said there would be scope for councils to appeal against the decision – which would delay the process by at least two months.
He said: "Whatever decision they make, if it leads to a major service change, the local authorities in that area can examine it, and if they decide they have substantive objections they can refer it to me, and I have a panel that will look at it.
"The fact that this decision is being made independently does not mean there is not scope for that decision to be referred back to me, but it is not in my court at the moment."
Mr Lansley could also intervene if he feels national specialist commissioning, which is his responsibility, is compromised by the committee's decision.
"Not all of the commissioning associated with the surgery at these units is the responsibility of Primary Care Trusts – some of it is the national specialised commissioning, which is my responsibility through the department," he said.
"I may have to think of some of the consequences of that after they have made the decision.
"While they are clearly intending the number of surgical teams across the country to reduce, I do not think the consequence will be the number of units providing services to children with congenital heart defects will reduce.
"They will continue to access all the other related services, including outpatient services.
"But the issue on where they go on the occasion they need an operation and have surgery they may have to go, in some cases, to a more distant unit."
Asked if he was happy to take responsibility for the success or otherwise of the review, he said: "I'm used to the idea – I will be judged on the success or otherwise of the health service, even if sometimes, it's the result of decisions that are made independently."
Experts claim the recommendations will lead to safer services and ensure doctors and surgeons are able to maintain their expertise.
However, MPs and campaigners have been fighting to save the Leeds centre since the process began, and the issue has been followed closely by the Grimsby Telegraph. Hundreds of readers signed coupons in protest at the move as part of our Save Our Surgery campaign.
Check www.thisisgrimsby.co.uk this afternoon for the decision, and see tomorrow's Telegraph for coverage.