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Leeds Children's Heart Unit Heart Unit demonstration

The Safe and Sustainable review of Children's Heart Surgery Services, which began in 2010, has been a complex, difficult and longstanding issue that affects not just the Leeds region, but all of Yorkshire. Throughout this time I have worked alongside other MPs from across Yorkshire and the Save our Surgery (SOS) Campaign, which was set up to oppose the closure of the Children's Heart unit, to keep the unit open.

The Safe and Sustainable review aimed to determine whether there was a need to reduce the number of NHS hospitals that provide children's heart surgery, as it was felt that the surgical expertise was spread too thinly over 11 surgical centres.

One of the surgical centres in question was the Leeds Children's Heart Unit at the Leeds General Infirmary (LGI), and in 2012, the review recommended the closure of the Leeds unit, along with units in London and Leicester. The closure of the surgery at LGI would have meant long transfers to either Newcastle, Liverpool or Birmingham for patients and parents, and there were real concerns that this would lead to the deaths of many children.

However, the Yorkshire and Humber Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee raised concerns regarding the Safe and Sustainable review to the Health Secretary (Andrew Lansley), who in turn referred this matter to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IPR), who reviewed the process and made recommendations and criticisms to the Health Secretary.

In March 2013, this review process found that part of the consultation was flawed, and the High Court ruled that the decision to propose closure of the unit had been unlawful. Just 24 hours later, however, it was announced that children's heart surgery at the LGI was suspended. NHS medical director, Sir Bruce Keogh along with other senior members of NHS England and the Care Quality Commission, arrived at Leeds General Infirmary on the morning of Thursday 28th of March 2013 to demand that, with immediate effect, children's heart surgery should cease. Doctors at the unit stated that the data used to halt operations was incomplete and inaccurate, as the data, figures on mortality rates that had been received from the Central Cardiac Audit Database, had not been analysed and was not ready to be used to form the basis of any decisions. This information was provided by Professor Sir Roger Boyle.

This suspension led to twelve children having their heart surgery delayed, or sent to hospitals further away, which led to these children being put at greater risk. Following complaints from me, other local MPs, concerned residents and the doctors themselves, the unit recommenced surgery two weeks later.

Following this, a member of the Safe and Sustainable review, Professor Sir Roger Boyle, said he wouldn't send his own daughter for heart surgery in Leeds but would choose Newcastle instead. The NHS Medical Director for the North of England, Mike Bewick, stepped into the debate saying if he had children who were in this position, he would have 'no doubt' he would take them to Leeds.

Again following outrage at his comments from supporters of the LGI, the Secretary of State for Health, now Jeremy Hunt, announced that Sir Roger Boyle will play no further part in the Safe & Sustainable review. Despite claims by the Safe and Sustainable review, data released by NHS England showed that none of the 10 centres in England breached thresholds for child heart surgery deaths.

The NHS England appealed against the High Court ruling that had rejected the decision to close of the children's heart unit at Leeds General Infirmary. It was then decided to launch a fresh review of national provision. The new Clinical Reference Group was brought in to make amends for the earlier, flawed, Safe and Sustainable review. However, there were worries that the same mistakes were being made again. Three of the four members of the new review admitted they supported the decisions made by the Safe and Sustainable Review, favouring some units and wanting to close others. This includes a pre-determined bias against the Leeds unit.

A year-long independent review, the third stage report, concluded in 2014 that the sudden suspension of children's heart surgery at the LGI was made on the basis of flawed and inaccurate data, which I consistently pointed out.

To stop bias against the Leeds unit, I welcome the fair set of standards that heart surgery units across the country must meet. These standards have been put in place so that each unit can be judged fairly. Leeds already reaches many of the standards set out by the review and should pass the requirements, allowing it to stay open and safe. However, we must stay cautious until we are given this news formally. Leeds is well on its way to staying open, but the priority is that all units are now given a fair chance to provide operations.

I have continued to support the Save our Surgery campaign, and along with other local MPs have repeatedly raised this issue in Parliament. I also took part in street demonstrations with campaigners from Save our Surgery, and handed in a 600,000 petition to 10 Downing Street.