• NHS England extends consultation period for congenital heart disease review
  • Public events planned for venues around the country next month have been cancelled
  • Final decision could be pushed back until early next year

A controversial decision on the future of congenital heart surgery across England has been further delayed because of the snap general election, HSJ can reveal.

Consultation over the closure of three units in London, Leicester and Manchester had been due to end on 5 June following public events staged by NHS England next month.

However, the events will now be rescheduled after the general election on 8 June, and the end of the consultation will be delayed. HSJ understands a final decision on the closures, which it had been hoped would take place later in 2017, is now likely to be delayed until next year.

The latest delay follows almost 20 years of uncertainty and dispute over where children’s heart surgery is provided.

An update on a review of paediatric intensive care services, accelerated last year to inform the debate around congenital heart disease (CHD), will also be put on hold until after general election day.

An NHS England spokeswoman said: “In accordance with the usual Purdah rules, the Congenital Heart Disease consultation period has been extended, as are the Paediatric Intensive Care and Specialised Surgery in Children Reviews.”

NHS England is still discussing a new end date for the consultation period and faces the task of rescheduling the consultation events planned for May. Local and regional elections in May had already affected the timetable.

The CHD review is the latest attempt to reshape congenital heart surgery. In 2001 the report into Bristol heart scandal highlighted shortages of key surgeons and nurses, a lack of leadership, teamwork and accountability.

The Department of Health concluded its four-year “Safe and Sustainable” review in 2012 with recommendations to stop surgery at Leeds General Infirmary, Glenfield Hospital in Leicester and the Royal Brompton Hospital in west London.

However, a judicial review and an evaluation by the Independent Reconfiguration Panel - concluding the plan was based on a “flawed analysis of incomplete proposals” - saw the process halted and responsibility handed to NHS England.

NHS England developed 13 standards to be met by hospitals, including at least four surgeons carrying out at least 125 operations by 2021. Paediatric specialties must also be co-located alongside CHD services by 2019.

Under the current proposals, CHD surgery for adults and children would cease at University Hospitals of Leicester Trust and Royal Brompton and Harefield Foundation Trust in London. Central Manchester University Hospitals FT, which does not perform children’s surgery, would lose CHD surgery for adults.

Alder Hey Children’s Hospital FT and Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital FT, Birmingham Children’s Hospital FT and University Hospitals Birmingham NHS FT, Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children FT and Barts Health, Guy’s and St Thomas’ FT, Leeds Teaching Hospitals, Newcastle Hospitals FT, University Hospitals Bristol FT and University Hospital Southampton FT would be the ten Level 1 centres carrying out the most complex surgery.

NHS England had intended to publish progress on its Paediatric Intensive Care and Specialised Surgery in Children Review, accelerated in November to align findings with reconfiguring services for congenital heart defects, in the next few weeks.

Initial analysis of services was expected to inform the debate surrounds CHD services and a new date for the publication of the document is still to be announced.

Alison Poole, UHL’s senior manager for special projects, said the trust had received verbal confirmation from NHS England that the consultation period had been extended and was waiting for notification of the new end date.

She said: “We were expecting a decision to be made by the NHS England board on 30 November but, obviously with the six-week delay, that could knock it into January. There is another board meeting on 14 December so it could be that the recommendations will still be put to the board this side of Christmas.”