NHS England has begun consultation on a new set of standards for congenital heart disease services, in the latest chapter of the long-running debate on the future of children’s cardiac surgery.
Its consultation document sets out how the organisation believes services should be organised to achieve the highest quality of care for patients.
Previous plans to reconfigure the services for children have been heavily criticised.
The Safe and Sustainable Review of paediatric cardiac surgery in England concluded that units in Leeds, Leicester and west London should be shut.
But campaigners fought ferociously against the planned closures and two separate legal challenges were launched against the review process, including the first-ever case of an NHS organisation taking legal action against another.
It resulted in an independent panel being asked to analyse the review process. Officials subsequently deemed that the decision to shut the units at Leeds General Infirmary, Glenfield Hospital in Leicester and the Royal Brompton in west London had been “flawed”.
While health secretary Jeremy Hunt put the plans on hold he said the streamlining of services must continue, and tasked NHS England to carry on with the process of looking into the reorganisation of children’s heart surgery.
The body has now published a document detailing how services for both children and adults should be provided.
While it has not detailed where services should be provided it has set out a gold standard for care highlighting 13 areas including: communication with patients and their families; staff and skills needed in teams; transition for children moving between child and adult services; working with other healthcare services patients might need, and support for patients and their families when their disease is not responsive to treatment.
Dr Jackie Cornish, national clinical director for children, young people and transition to adulthood at NHS England, said: “Congenital heart disease services in this country already provide good, safe care, with high survival rates after surgery. But we know there are areas for improvement, and we want consistent services of the highest quality for all our patients throughout their lives, wherever they live.”
Professor Huon Gray, national clinical director for heart disease at NHS England added: “Patients, the public, doctors and surgeons told us the best way to improve services is to implement the same set of standards across the board. They spoke and we listened.
“We now want to gather people’s views on our proposals - it is absolutely crucial we get this right for patients and we want to hear what people think. This is not a done deal, and everyone has the opportunity to give their feedback on the standards.”