PARENTS in South Tyneside are shocked and disgusted that the future of a world-renowned North East children’s heart unit is in jeopardy once again.
The uncertainty comes after campaigners won a High Court challenge over proposed changes to children’s heart surgery services in England.
The legal challenge followed a decision last July by the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts (JCPCT) that paediatric cardiac surgery should be concentrated at fewer, larger sites to improve standards across the country.
The sites chosen to stay open included the Children’s Heart Unit at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital, along with sites in Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool, Southampton and two London centres.
Three units were earmarked for closure, including one at Leeds General Infirmary, with children facing a journey to Tyneside or Merseyside for surgery.
But yesterday, the Yorkshire city’s campaign group Save Our Surgery (SOS) won a battle which claimed the Safe and Sustainable consultation was “unfair and procedurally flawed”.
While it’s not yet known what the decision will mean, one possibility is that the judge Mrs Justice Nicola Davies will order fresh consultations, which could throw plans for the reorganisation of children’s heart surgery around the country into delay and disarray.
Today, parents across South Tyneside, whose children have been saved by medics at the Freeman, are worried by the latest development.
Chris Parkin, father of 20–month–old Karl, believes his son wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for the unit – but he is confident it will survive.
The tot, who was born weighing 1lb 15oz, has had numerous surgeries at the Newcastle hospital, due to problems with his heart.His most recent was last August, which saw him have an artificial valve replaced.
Mr Parkin, 30, of Barnard Crescent, Hebburn, said: “It started off as a routine operation, but complications occurred and Karl was in hospital until just before Christmas, he ended up in intensive care on an Ecmo machine.
“They do an amazing job at the Freeman, I honestly don’t think we’d be here today with Karl, if it wasn’t for them.
“It’s disgusting, and shocking, that it has come to this once again – it’s a big blow to everyone.
“But I think if the unit is reviewed, it will stand out and they’ll see it’s one of, if not the, best in the country.”
Phil Richardson, whose son Charlie, eight, had emergency surgery as a 14-month-old tot for a hole in the heart, believes the ordeal is wasting essential cash.
The 39–year–old from Julian Street, South Shields, said: “I’m gutted there might be another review, all the money which will be spent could be saving children’s lives or used for research.
“I think it’s sad that any unit should close, but obviously with the Freeman treating my son Charlie successfully, I’d love to think that Newcastle should stay open.
“It is not only nationally, but also internationally renowned, as having clinical excellence.”
Sharon Eckert, 38, whose 14-week-old baby Miley died last November, while waiting for a new heart, says it would be a tragedy if the Freeman had to close.
Ms Eckert, of West Morland Road, Marsden, South Shields, said: “The Freeman’s heart unit does a fantastic job and it would be an absolute tragedy if it is forced to close.
“The medical staff at the Freeman’s do fantastic work and have saved so many lives over the years.
“It’s sad any unit should close – but the Freeman has such a fantastic reputation.”