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Hilary Benn

I congratulate the hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) on securing this debate and I thank hon. Members on both sides of

the House who have signed early-day motion 1459, which expresses the views that we have just heard in his eloquent speech—he has really made the case.

I simply wish to say a couple of things, the first of which is that I have the honour to represent Leeds general infirmary and I had the opportunity, as the hon. Gentleman did, to visit the heart surgery unit about a month ago. I met the staff, who with care, compassion and enormous skill look after very sick children and their families, and I had a chance to talk to some of the families themselves. It is, as he said, a very stressful and difficult time for the families and children, particularly when the children reach an age at which they become aware of what they are about to go through and see other children who are sick—but they are in very capable and reassuring hands.

The case that has been made by all who are concerned that the unit at Leeds general infirmary should remain open is overwhelming. I wanted to put that directly to the Minister, and it is good to see him here. For all the reasons that have been set out, which I shall not repeat, there is a clear case for keeping Leeds open. Like the hon. Member for Pudsey, I do not for a second argue with the basis of the review and its origins. Clearly, for anyone who has responsibility for ensuring that children’s heart surgery is as safe as it possibly can be, not least the Minister, it is right, given what has happened in certain places, to look at the things that will tell us that we have that safety and security for patients. We from Leeds and the region are not campaigning for anyone else’s unit to close, and I share others’ disappointment that Leeds figures in only one of the options. We are simply saying that the Leeds unit should remain open and that that should happen alongside other decisions that the Minister and others have to take. That is a heavy responsibility to bear.

My final point concerns the meeting that took place earlier this week and I thank the hon. Member for Pudsey for giving us the opportunity to come together. I, too, listened to Amelie’s mother speak and the room was absolutely silent as she described what she had been through. I want to convey to the House the depth of feeling about and the strength of support for the Leeds unit. The determination of the thousands of parents whose children’s lives have been saved by the unit and of the millions of parents who hope that the unit will continue should their children face the same difficulties is very powerful. This debate, which is very timely, is part of the campaign we are waging because we are determined that the Leeds unit should remain open. The Minister will soon get a request to receive a delegation from the large number of Members who represent constituents who have benefited from the unit’s work and who hope to benefit in the years ahead; it is good to see so many of them here. We will not rest until the unit is declared safe for the future in the interests of the people whom we have the honour to serve.

— from debate entitled “Children's Heart Surgery (Leeds)

The three speeches/headings immediately before

  1. 1 earlier: Stuart Andrew

    That is a very valid point and I shall shortly discuss something that was said the other day because it will comment on that.

    I shall conclude now because I know that a couple of other Members have expressed an interest in speaking in this debate. I understand that this process is going to be difficult and that there is a need for a review. Severe problems have been experienced in parts of the country and it is right that a clinically led decision is made, but I want that decision to be made on the basis of facts that matter to local people and that are accurate. As I have mentioned, there are real problems with the assessment and the options that have been mentioned. Emotions will of course run high, because this is a very emotive subject. It is incredibly moving to listen to the families I have been speaking to since this matter first arose. They describe how their children and their babies were so close to death but how, thanks to the expertise that was provided at this location, which they were able to reach, their children are at least here and receiving the wonderful care that is provided, although they may be poorly.

    There is a case to be made for the facility at Leeds in terms of geography, population and access. We like to tick boxes in this country and everything is ticked in this case for Leeds. I would be grateful if the process could be examined. Some powerful comments were made and cases were mentioned at a meeting held with parents and clinicians here on Tuesday. They are desperate for this unit to remain open. As someone said at that meeting, the doctors should move where the patients are; it should not be the other way round.

  2. 2 earlier: Alec Shelbrooke

    My hon. Friend may be coming to this issue, but could he comment on the fact, which has been put forward every now and again, that Newcastle is favoured because its facility performs adult heart transplants? We recognise that surgeons have equal skills and just because somewhere does the adult heart transplants, it does not necessarily mean that we should move the children’s heart surgery to that department.

  3. 3 earlier: Stuart Andrew

    I absolutely agree. For hearts, time is of the essence. We need to be sure that people can get where they need to be quickly. I met my hon. Friend’s constituent the other day, and she spoke very powerfully and emotionally about what that meant in her case. I cannot imagine how families in these situations must feel. It is imperative that there is a facility close by.

    Returning to the reviews, there are also inconsistencies in the application of some of the principles. So, for example, Liverpool and Birmingham are in all the options because of density of population and access for patients, but the same does not seem to apply to the Leeds case. That is odd and I do not know why the Liverpool and Birmingham cases are different.

    Not enough emphasis has been given to co-location. The facility at Leeds general infirmary is wonderful now—I am given to understand that it is the second largest children’s service in the whole country—so taking away its heart unit and the expertise that has been gathered there over the years is strange. This is not just about children’s heart services, because the process has failed to seek views from adult congenital patients. The doctors who operate on the children also operate on the adults and it appears obvious that wherever the children’s heart services go, so, too, will the services for adults. Will they have had an opportunity to be consulted on what was going to happen to those services? This is about a much wider point than just children’s services.

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