On February 14th I blogged about closing children’s heart surgery units that were unsafe. That post is reproduced below. Today we have heard that Chase Farm hospital maternity and A&E units are to close. Ask most people in the NHS and they would say that this should have happened 20 years ago. Andrew Lansley has finally accepted the recommendation from the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP), which advises ministers on reshaping hospital services. It is absolutely crucial that patient safety is put first and he has done the right thing in accepting this recommendation. MPs on all sides need to admit publicly that there are too many hospitals – it would help them all if they do this altogether – and collectively communicate that 21st century demands and technology mean that healthcare is less about bricks and mortar and more about being seen by the right person in the best possible setting. The question is whether politicians will rise above party politics and work to ensure that the quality of healthcare and their constituent’s safety is prioritised rather than let fear or sentiment prevail.
The report “Safe and Sustainable: Children’s Heart Surgery in England” commissioned in 2008 by Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, the NHS medical director is due out this Wednesday. As reported in the Times (£) over the weekend, out of the 11 units performing child heart surgery (some of which have already had their activity suspended) it is expected that the findings will recommend some of the units should close. With such specialised procedures it is vital that the surgical teams have the depth and breadth of expertise required in order to give the best possible chance of a succesful outcome.
Sir Bruce has made the point before: “We as surgeons have a duty to the most vulnerable members of the next generation to ensure that we adapt the shape of the NHS to meet their very complex needs,” he told The Times. “This is not about saving money. It is about saving lives.”
The point he makes has to be the one that politicians accept. Patient safety has to come before political expediency and this won’t be the first or last time that politicians and patients will need to recognise that specialist care should trump localism. It will mean that someone’s local unit closes and other services may be affected too. But this is part of the change process that the Government have been alluding to – shaping the NHS to meet patient needs in the 21st century. This includes recognising just how highly specialised many procedures have become and that they need an experienced team of experts to undertake them, which cannot be replicated in every hospital in the UK. It exemplifies the point that has been made by the coalition on health outcomes – that we should be aiming to raise the quality of NHS care – and in my opinion – especially for the vulnerable.