Decision on future of congenital heart disease services welcomed

A decision today to allow a level 1 congenital heart disease (CHD) centre to remain in Newcastle has been welcomed by the Trust.

NHS England commissions children’s heart disease services and those services are expected to meet 238 standards. In 2016 all CHD services were assessed against those standards, and earlier this year NHS England launched a national consultation on those assessments.

Today its Board agreed that the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust should continue to run a level one CHD centre, recognising the unique position the organisation holds in providing a range of closely interlinked specialist services.

The Freeman Hospital - where the Trust’s CHD services are currently based - is one of only two in the country that carries out heart transplants for children and it is the main hospital for transplanting hearts for adults with CHD.

NHS England acknowledges that “these services could not be replaced in the short term without a negative effect on patients” and its Board agreed with the view that “because of the way these services are intertwined we cannot make a decision on one without also making a decision on the other.” 

As heart transplants were not part of NHS England’s work on CHD its Board endorsed a recommendation that the Trust should continue to provide a level 1 CHD services until at least March 2021. This would allow further time for consideration of the commissioning approach for both the CHD and advanced heart failure and transplant services at the Trust.

Louise Robson, Director of Business and Development/Joint Acting Chief Executive, said: “We welcome NHS England’s decision today as it endorses the outstanding standards of care our highly skilled specialist teams provide to children from across the North East and other parts of the country.

“It acknowledges the Trust’s unique position in treating patients with some of the most complex conditions and recognises the quality of our outcomes, which are amongst the best in the country.

“We lead the way in the UK in providing treatment for infants and children with “end stage” heart failure, and our clinical teams have long called for commissioners to consider the linkages between our CHD and advanced heart failure and transplant services, for both adults and children. So we are pleased by the decision today, which gives us time for further discussion with NHS England.”

The original assessment of the Trust’s compliance with all 238 standards identified that it met all but the following:

  • Having three surgeons carrying out 125 CHD operations a year
  • Co-location of CHD services with general children’s services.

The Trust’s three surgeons currently treat some of the most complex cases that other organisations across the country are often reluctant to undertake, and even with this level of complexity the Trust is already almost meeting the required number of operations per consultant per year.

While the organisation has done some initial scoping work to consider options for the co-location of CHD services with general children’s services, NHS England acknowledges that it would be premature to make any move before 2021.

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