Ray of hope in fight to save children's heart unit at Glenfield Hospital, Leicester
Campaigners have won a breakthrough in the fight to save children's heart surgery at Glenfield Hospital.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt yesterday ordered a full review of the decision after an independent panel told him there were grounds for a rethink.
It is a significant step in the battle to keep children's cardiac surgery in Leicester after an NHS review earlier this year concluded Glenfield's unit should be one of four to be axed in England.
The decision meant children born with heart problems would have to go to Birmingham for their operations. The lifesaving children's specialist Ecmo (extra corporeal membrane oxygenation) service would also move.
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The decision sparked fury, with more than 100,000 people signing an e-petition against the closure – which led to a debate in Westminster Hall yesterday. The number of people who have now signed the petition is about 104, 400.
Adam Tansey, from Burbage, whose son, Albert, was born with half a heart, said: "This review is what we have been fighting for all along."
Mr Tansey, founder of the charity Keep the Beat and who set up the e-petition, said: "Ecmo is part and parcel of cardiac surgery and the review will no doubt include this."
The decision to close Glenfield was part of a wider review of children's heart services which saw the number of hospitals that provide the service cut from 11 to seven.
A body called the Independent Reconfiguration Panel, which reviews controversial health service decisions, has been studying the outcome of that review on behalf of Mr Hunt.
The Health Secretary asked the panel to look at the decision after being lobbied by health scrutiny committees in Leicestershire and nationwide.
The panel's conclusion, that there was a case for a rethink, was published yesterday.
Health campaigners' concerns that were looked at by the panel included the impact on patients, the effect on other services provided by the affected hospitals, such as Ecmo at Glenfield, and the effect on medical research.
The panel concluded the "issues raised merit further consideration".
Gill Smart, from county charity Heart Link, said: "We are pleased about the review. It does mean dragging the matter out longer, but we have to get it right."
The panel – made up of clinicians, NHS managers and lay members – has until February 28 next year to carry out its review.
The findings will go to Mr Hunt for a final decision.
Mr Hunt has said the decision to move the children's Ecmo service from Glenfield, which was taken by his predecessor, Andrew Lansley, will not be included in the review.
However, campaigners hope to demonstrate to the panel that Ecmo and children's heart surgery are dependent on one another.
City councillor Michael Cooke, chairman of the Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, said: "Clearly it would make no sense for the Ecmo service to move if the heart surgery was to remain at Glenfield."
County councillor Ruth Camamile, committee vice chairman, said: "We remain concerned about the capacity of Birmingham Children's hospital to take on heart surgery for all children in the Midlands area."
During the Westminster Hall debate yesterday, Health Minister Anna Soubry said the panel would look again at whether "the proposals will enable safe, sustainable and accessible services".
Harborough MP Sir Edward Garnier, who secured the debate, said: "I don't care who made the decision. We know the current decision is frankly wrong and it needs to be dealt with."
He said Mr Hunt must "exercise his levers of power" to change the decision.
MPs across Leicestershire, including Jon Ashworth, member for Leicester South, expressed concern about the ability of Birmingham Children's Hospital to cope with more patients, and about the loss of the children's Ecmo service.
Bosworth MP David Tredinnick said the review was "a huge relief".
Liz Kendall, Leicester West MP and Shadow Health Minister, said: "It is very important that the very best clinical evidence is considered."
Leicester East member Keith Vaz praised the Glenfield campaigners.