Children face 84-mile trip for heart surgery

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YOUNGSTERS with heart conditions in Dacorum will face the prospect of travelling to Southampton for surgery under an NHS shake-up.

Under the changes the borough will fall into a new catchment area based around a ‘specialist surgical centre’ in the south coast city, 84 miles from Hemel Hempstead.

The overhaul comes in the wake of the Bristol heart scandal in which dozens of babies died because of poor care.

But campaigners say it is ‘cruel’ to expect families to travel so far for treatment.

Betty Harris, chairman of Dacorum Hospital Action Group, said: “It’s just cruel.

“It’s bad enough if a child has something wrong with their heart without having them sent miles and miles away.

“What support are they going to give families towards transport and childcare?”

Health bosses say there is a ‘potential children’s cardiology centre’ in Oxford, for ongoing care but not surgery, and parents will be ‘free to exercise their right of choice for any aspect of their child’s care at any hospital in England’.

But a former cardiac nurse and PhD student studying inequalities in neonatal outcomes predicts families will be given the choice of either waiting to go to closer but oversubscribed hospitals in London or getting care more quickly in Southampton.

Robyn Penny, who has family in Hemel Hempstead, said: “There will be a few children going to Great Ormond Street Hospital but a lot will go down to Southampton. There’s a lot of impact on local people.”

The change, due to come into force in 2014, will see the borough become part of South Central as the country is divided into seven ‘congenital heart networks’ under the ‘Safe and Sustainable’ NHS review.

Jeremy Glyde, Safe and Sustainable programme director, said: “The decision for some of the Hemel Hempstead postcode to be joined with the Southampton/Oxford congenital heart network reflects existing arrangements that have been in place for some time.

“NHS services in the west of the postcode have traditionally referred to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, which has successfully partnered the Southampton surgical centre in a children’s congenital heart network since 2010. We expect that children with congenital heart disease will continue to travel to Oxford for most aspects of their ongoing care.”

Are you affected by the change? Let us know, email thegazette@jpress.co.uk