Families from across Melton were among the many who backed the campaign to keep the East Midlands Congenital Heart Centre open when it faced closure a few years ago.
But now the centre, which serves families across Melton, Rutland and Lincolnshire, is under renewed threat after NHS England announced its intention to close the unit.
NHS England bosses said it had been assessed that the service doesn’t meet all of the requirements under agreed new commissioning standards for congenital heart disease services, which came into effect from April, and that it was unlikely to be able meet the new standards.
It’s announcement has sparked a furious reaction from bosses at Leicester’s hospitals as well as staff, patients and other health campaigners who have previously fought to save the unit from closure and will now fight again in the hope of securing its future.
John Adler, chief executive at Leicester’s Hospitals, said: “Over the last 18 months we have made excellent progress, with the support of our charities and partner organisations, to meet the standards set by NHS England through the new congenital heart disease review.
“We have expanded the number of beds, improved our outcomes, invested in staffing and briefed architects to create a new single site children’s hospital which will meet the co-location standard.
“We are confident that our clinical outcomes are now among the best in the country so we strongly disagree with NHS England’s decision and will not sit by while they destroy our fabulous service.”
Councillor Ernie White, chairman of Leicestershire’s health and wellbeing board and County Hall’s cabinet member for health, said: “This is the wrong decision for the children and families who need these services. Glenfield’s unit provides an excellent service and has united support from the local community, politicians and NHS officials.
“Closing the unit is not justified at all. The work the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust has been doing has been exactly in line with what the NHS required.
“I will be urgently seeking further information so I can fully understand the implications upon Glenfield and the wider NHS. We cannot afford to lose such a valued unit.”
In a letter to Mr Adler, the regional director of specialised commissioning for the London region wrote: “We are taking these steps because we believe that they are in the best interests of patients with congenital heart disease and their families, including those yet to be diagnosed who will need these services in future.
“We believe that by ensuring that all patients across the country are able to benefit from services that meet agreed national standards, the quality of care they receive will be improved.”
In his written response, Mr Adler wrote: “I cannot agree that your decision to ‘cease commissioning’ children’s heart surgery in the East Midlands is in any way ‘in the best interests of patients with congenital heart disease and their families’.
“Our most recent clinical outcomes, when compared with current published data, place us alongside the best performing surgical centres in England.
“You want to close a centre, beloved of its patients and families, despite quality indicators that ought to alert you to the fact that this is a grave mistake.
“NHS England is proposing to close a top quality service despite the fact that the clinicians working in the service are confident of their ability to perform the required number of surgical procedures.
“My board and I will not sit by whilst NHS England destroys a fabulous service. We reject your stated intention to cease commissioning Level 1 congenital heart disease services from us and we will use all the means at our disposal to reverse this intention.”
It is not clear what will happen to around 300 staff who work at the unit if it closes or where patients will be treated.
Concerns have also been raised about the impact closing the children’s heart service in Leicester will have upon other specialist services for children in the East Midlands, with campaigners also fearful the closure will also mean the closure of the unit’s extra corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) service.
l What do you think? Have you had a child treated at the Glenfield children’s heart unit? Have you been affected by this closure? E-mail the newsdesk