A much debated reorganisation of the hospitals in England has been agreed by the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts (JCPCT). The changes bring the number of hospitals performing paediatric heart surgery from eleven to seven. The landmark reforms are the result of a national review of paediatric heart services in England following the Bristol heart scandal of the 1990s in which 35 babies and children died as a result of poor care. The review concluded that expertise was too thinly spread and the aim of the reforms is to centralise expertise in fewer specialist centres where care will be of a higher standard. The changes mean that some children with serious heart defects will have to travel further for surgery than they currently do.

Paediatric heart surgery will stop at Leeds General Infirmary, Leicester’s Glenfield Hospital and London’s Royal Brompton. However, the units will remain open to focus on care before and after surgery. The John Radcliffe in Oxford had already suspended children’s heart surgery in 2010 following safety concerns.

The JCPCT saved the Evelina Hospital which is part of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital Trust; Great Ormond Street in London; The Freeman Hospital in Newcastle; Birmingham Children’s Hospital; Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool; Southampton General Hospital and Bristol Royal Hospital for Children. Committee Chairman Sir Neil McKay, said: “The needs of children, not the vested interests of hospitals, have been at the heart of this review”.

It will be interesting to see whether further legal challenges similar to those previously raised by Royal Brompton will follow on from this decision.