A campaign to save a children’s hospital heart unit used by patients in Melton and Rutland has accelerated with the delivery of a 130,000-name petition to the Prime Minister’s residence and a second protest march through Leicester.
The activites coincided with the launch of a public consultation into the planned closure of the East Midlands Congenital Heart Centre at the city’s Glenfield Hospital.
NHS England is considering taking the action because it says the unit does not meet new healthcare standards.
But protestors say it is a vitally neeeded service and it would be unfair to send children for heart surgery much longer distances away in Birmingham or Manchester.
The mother of a young Melton woman who has had surgery and regular check-ups at the Glenfield unit has talked about the ‘nightmare’ they face if its planned closure goes ahead.
Beth Shepherd had an operation to repair a hole in her heart at East Midlands Congenital Heart Centre, at Glenfield Hospital, when she was one-year-old back in 1995 and she has returned for numerous check-ups there ever since.
She also now has to have regular treatment for polymiositis at hospitals around the country and would face more lengthy trips to see consultants if the Leicester service is no longer available.
Her mum, Julie, said: “If Beth had to travel for her regular heart check-ups it would be a nightmare.
“It is taking a real toll on her having to go for treatment for her new condition and this will make it even worse for her.
“We are spending hundreds of pounds to visit hospitals and it will only get more expensive if they close the Leicester unit. We can afford it but many families won’t be able to.”
Julie, a former nurse at Melton’s War Memorial Hospital, now devotes much of her time to looking after her daughter and driving her to hospital appointments.
Married to Paul and with three other children, she recalled the terrible time the family endured when Beth had to have surgery as a baby: “It was horrendous. But the care my daughter received at Glenfield was excellent, from doctors, nurses and everyone. I remember when we were there in 1995 there wasn’t much of a wait to be seen but outpatients there is getting busier and busier and you now have to wait two hours. This shows that we need this Glenfield unit to stay open.”
Despite her illnesses, Beth (22), a former pupil at Brownlow School and Long Field Academy in Melton, recently graduated with a degree in English literature with creative writing.
She said: “I think it is so important that they keep the unit open because it is used by so many people in this area.”
A 10-month-old baby who received life-saving surgery at the Glenfield heart unit was part of the delegation which delivered the petition to 10 Downing Street.
Elijah Whitehouse, who was saved by surgeons after being born with two holes in his heart, and mum Jess joined cross-party MPs from across the region in taking the 130,000 signatures to 10 Downing Street in London.
One of the MPs, Liz Kendall, the member for Leicester West, said it was ‘a huge achievement’ to have collected so many signatories to the petition.
After NHS England launched its consultation into proposals to close the unit, John Adler, chief executive of the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, said: “We fundamentally disagree with what NHS England are proposing, not out of parochial self-interest but because we fail to see how the closure of a growing, high performing centre, with excellent results, beloved of its patients and serving a community of some five million people in our region, is in any way in the interests of those patients and their families.
“Nonetheless, we will continue to engage with the process and constructively respond to the consultation, as will the many thousands of local people, doctors and nurses from across the region who have supported us thus far.”
He added: “We presented 10 Downing Street with a petition signed by 130,000 people, who believe that decommissioning congenital heart services in the East Midlands is a mistake. We hope that their voices are heard.”
The consultation runs until 11.59pm on Monday June 5 and comments can be made online at https://www.engage.england.nhs.uk/consultation/chd/ on the consultation documents.
A spokersperson for NHS England said: “It is our intention that public consultation on our proposals for congenital heart disease services is as accessible and wide-ranging as possible.
“We are planning a number of meetings in the Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland areas, as well as attendance at Health Overview and Scrutiny Committees and Health and Wellbeing Boards.
“As well as face-to-face meetings, we will be holding a number of webinars, and using social media to engage with as many people as possible.”
l Have you had a child who was treated in the children’s heart unit at Glenfield Hospital? Please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 01664 412520.