Mum’s plea to save special heart unit

Zena Barclay with eight year old son Jack.
Zena Barclay with eight year old son Jack.

A Lincolnshire mum has said her eight-year-old son may not have survived his ordeal if it was played out again under NHS proposals to reduce the number of hospitals in the country delivering surgery on heart defects from birth in children and adults.

Zena Barclay was speaking at a recent public consultation event held at the New Life Centre, in Sleaford, on reorganisation plans by NHS England to ensure consistent standards for congenital heart disease (CHD) services for children.

The changes are expected to take effect from early next year, but the consultation panel insist input from patients, families and staff will help shape decisions.

The proposals would see a shift to fewer, specialised hospitals where more operations would be carried out to ensure agreed levels of excellence, including teams of at least four surgeons each doing at least 125 procedures a year for greater experience.

Missing out is University Hospitals of Leicester, which currently serves Lincolnshire patients, who would instead go to Birmingham or even Leeds.

Mrs Barclay, of Heckington, told how her son, Jack, now eight, may have died within 24 hours of being born in Pilgrim Hospital, Boston, with an undiagnosed heart defect if it had not been for the proximity of a team from Leicester who risked driving in a snow storm to treat him.

A teacher at William Alvey School, in Sleaford, she said she knew of another mother whose child had not been so fortunate and six other children at her reliant on Leicester.

Mrs Barclay recalls: “Only the skill of the people from Glenfield Hospital at Leicester and their willingness to 
come at their own risk saved him.”

She said: “Any parent would travel further to get the best care for their child, but what if that child cannot survive the journey? Lincolnshire is going to lose babies.”

Dr Aidan Bolger, consultant cardiologist at Leicester, argued that expertise would be lost if CHD surgery was shifted away for the sake of ‘arbitrary’ targets.

He also questioned whether Birmingham could be geared up to take 300-plus extra patients a year.

Dr Richard Andrews, a consultant cardiologist at Lincoln County Hospital added standards should be balanced against the potential wider impact on the health 
network.

Programme Director Michael Wilson and Prof Huon Gray, Consultant Cardiologist and National Clinical Director for Heart Disease, leading the consultation, accepted the increased distances and would take on board all the potential impacts in writing the final recommendations.

Prof Gray said: “We all want to ensure that patients’ care 
is as good as it can possibly be.”