18 September 2012
The decision to close Royal Brompton Hospital’s intensive care unit, putting the specialist care of some of the most vulnerable children in the country at risk, was described today as "scandalous" by a Member of Parliament who has experienced first hand the expertise of the hospital’s clinical teams.
Gordon Henderson, Conservative MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, told colleagues in the House of Commons that the threat to close the Royal Brompton’s children’s intensive care unit was "really not the finest hour for health service reorganisations" and voiced his concerns that out-of-date statistics from 2006 had been used to come to the decision that London and the South East could manage with two rather than three children’s heart surgery centres.
Mr Henderson was approached by his constituent Mrs Collette Pridmore, who was worried about her son’s future after discovering that the care he receives at Royal Brompton Hospital was under threat. Because of the serious nature of his condition, Jacob Pridmore spends many weeks each year at Royal Brompton, where specialist clinical teams have the necessary skills to help him.
Mr Henderson explained: “At Mrs Pridmore’s suggestion I visited Jacob at Royal Brompton and during my visit she arranged for me to meet the doctors and nurses who care for her son. To say I was impressed is an understatement.
“The respiratory children’s unit at Royal Brompton treats some of the most vulnerable children in our country – those with serious lung disease and breathing problems. The Royal Brompton is home to the country’s largest children’s cystic fibrosis unit and the hospital’s experts treat children with muscular dystrophies, severe drug-resistant asthma and a range of other respiratory conditions.
“These conditions are not commonplace – but the concentration of clinical expertise in one place means that knowledge is accumulated and shared creating the best possible conditions for the care of children like Jacob. The hospital also carries out research, with Imperial College, to constantly improve the treatments available.
“My visit to the Royal Brompton was inspirational. I saw the very best that the NHS has to offer – the best specialist skills and an incredibly caring environment.”
Mr Henderson described his frustration on learning why the Royal Brompton unit has been designated for closure: “The threat to close the Royal Brompton’s children’s respiratory services is really not the finest hour for health service reorganisations. This is not an academic exercise, it is about the future welfare of some pretty sick and vulnerable children, like Jacob.
“Jacob’s doctors don’t think they’ll be able to carry on caring for him long term because their intensive care unit is being closed. Without the back-up of intensive care and anaesthesia they won’t be able to offer the expert services they do now, because they think it will be unsafe to do so. So why is the intensive care unit being closed? Is it to save money? Is it because it’s not a very good unit? Is it because no-one needs it? Mr Speaker, the answer is none of these.”
Mr Henderson told fellow MPs in the House of Commons that on 4 July this year a committee of Primary Care Trust chief executives, as part of the reorganisation of children’s heart services in England, made the "extraordinary" decision to end children’s heart surgery and intensive care at Royal Brompton.
“The proposed closure has severe knock-on effects on children’s respiratory medicine,” he explained. “Whilst not all Royal Brompton’s young respiratory patients need the intensive care unit or the children’s specialist anaesthetists attached to it, many do, especially if they deteriorate very quickly and sadly for Jacob – this has happened to him on several occasions. Dr Claire Hogg, Jacob’s doctor, told me that without an intensive care unit or anaesthetists on site, her only option if Jacob became particularly unwell, would be to try and get him to the specialist intensive care unit at another London hospital in an ambulance, in London traffic, perhaps up to an hour away. To a sick little boy or girl this could be a lifetime away – literally.”
Mr Henderson described his reaction to a meeting with Royal Brompton doctors: “A couple of weeks ago Collette Pridmore brought some of Royal Brompton’s doctors to visit me here at the House. I was shocked by what I learned. Dr Duncan Macrae, director of children’s services, has discovered that new figures published after the review of children’s heart services took place show that the rate of population increase, particularly the child population, is far greater than previously estimated and most specifically in London where the child population is increasing at almost twice the national average.
“The decision to leave just two centres offering children’s heart surgery in London and the South East, was taken using 2006-based National Population Projections which have been shown to greatly underestimate the numbers.”
“Equally as worrying is the recent data from the UK Central Cardiac Audit Database that shows the number of children having heart operations is increasing year on year.
“So the review of children’s heart surgery uses out-of-date statistics on both population growth and the number of children needing surgery toconclude that London and the South East can manage with two rather than three children’s heart surgery centres. They decided that Royal Brompton should close its specialist centre and intensive care unit, despite the fact that the hospital is one of the biggest and best centres in the country.
“Scandalously, the intensive care units and children’s heart units at the other two London centres do not currently have enough beds for Royal Brompton patients, and at least one of them will have to spend large sums of money building new facilities. At a time when the NHS is strapped for cash, this alone is a good reason for reversing the decision to close the Royal Brompton Hospital."
Mr Henderson ended his speech by reminding colleagues that the proposed closure was not as a result of government policy, but added that he hoped that the new Health team led by Jeremy Hunt, MP for South West Surrey might intervene.
“I very much hope that ministers will agree to meet with me, and some of the medical staff from the Royal Brompton, to discuss our concerns,” he concluded.