Congenital heart disease affects up to 9 in every 1,000 babies born in the UK and varies in type and severity. Problems can include a “hole in the heart”, narrowing of the aorta and transposition of the great arteries. Treatment provisions are dealt with in a small number of specialist centres across England.
Standard of care at specialist heart centres
In July last year, NHS England introduced new standards that it wanted hospitals to meet to ensure a high quality of care. Such requirements included that surgeons work in teams of four and see at least 125 patients a year to ensure that they keep their skills up to date.
The requirements only came into play in April this year but in order to establish which providers do or can meet the standards in the set time frame of 5 years, all providers were asked to complete a self-assessment process, the results of which form the basis of the actions announced by NHS England on 8 July 2016.
The results mean that due to their failure to meet the specified standards which were introduced last year, Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Trust, University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust and the Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Trust are to stop carrying out operations on congenital heart disease patients all together.
Five other Trusts will have to stop providing complex care which includes procedures such as widening of the arteries and repairing holes in the heart.
The Trusts affected have indicated that they are likely to fight the decisions.
Consequences of closing specialist heart centres
As a result of the closures, one concern is that by closing various specialist centres, patients will have to travel further for the treatment they need which could lead to difficulties.
NHS England have acknowledged that some patients will have to travel further to access specialist services as a result of the proposed changes but that long term care should be capable of being delivered closer to home.
In any event, patient safety is paramount and where centres cannot provide the level of care required, to continue to do could potentially have negative consequences.