ENRAGED parents of Hucknall children whose lives have been saved by a specialist hospital unit are backing a last-ditch fight to save it from closure.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has confirmed that the East Midlands Congenital Heart Centre at Glenfield Hospital in Leicester will be axed and the operation moved to Birmingham.
But campaigners have slammed the controversial decision and have supported the Keep The Beat charity, which raises funds for the Glenfield unit. The charity was aiming to hit 100,000 signatures with an online protest petition before Parliament’s summer recess began this week.
If this total of names was received, the decision could be debated in the House of Commons.
The campaign is fully supported by teenager Michael Keeling and his parents, Alison and Jeremy, of Suffolk Avenue, Hucknall.
Michael, who has just turned 18, was left with a defective pulmonary valve because of a condition known as tetralogy of fallots and he has been in and out of hospital since he was a baby.
He underwent pioneering keyhole surgery at Glenfield three years ago. The operation was so groundbreaking that it was watched by 120 invited doctors from different parts of the world.
Alison (50) said: “Michael is not too bad at the moment. But he still has problems with his heart and will eventually need to have more surgery.”
Michael will be leaving Foxwood Special Needs School in Bramcote today (Friday) and is due to go to Clarendon College, Nottingham, to study music. He plays the drums.
“Closing Glenfield would be a backward step for the National Health Service and children with heart problems,” said Alison. “It would be a great shame and I don’t think children would get the same standard of attention anywhere else.”
Alison was also full of praise for the Heart Link charity, which is associated with Glenfield. She said: “It makes you feel part of the family. It puts you at ease and everybody talks to you. Glenfield is a brilliant hospital.”
Another enthusiastic supporter of the campaign is Lydia Kram, of Ogle Street, Hucknall, whose eight-year-old daughter, Natalia, underwent life-saving open heart surgery at the Glenfield unit when she was only seven months old.
“If it was not for this unit, my daughter would not be alive today,” she said. “It is quite convenient for us to travel to Leicester, which is near the M1, but it would be much more difficult for us to get to Birmingham.”
Natalia, a pupil at Hucknall National Primary School on Montague Road, leads an active life. She goes to Hucknall’s Sarah Adamson School of Dance, where she has won an award as the most improved student in her age group. She also went to a Brownie camp at Calverton last week and now wants to start gymnastics.
However, there is a constant worry that if Natalia’s left heart valve leaks too much, it would put pressure on the right valve and cause damage.
The Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts says the Glenfield unit was earmarked for closure because of a bid to improve services by creating larger but fewer surgical centres.
Tracy Moss, director of a specialist commissioning team, said: “A panel of independent experts assessed each centre’s ability to meet national quality standards, both now and in the future. The panel ranked Birmingham Children’s Hospital third out of the 11 centres and the Glenfield unit was ranked ninth.
“We are well aware of the Glenfield staff’s expertise and it is important that this is retained in the Midlands through joint planning.”
Glenfield has the UK’s largest ECMO unit, which is used to oxygenate the blood of critically-ill patients.
Leslie Hamilton, vice-chairman of a safe and sustainable review steering group, said: “We felt that surgical expertise is spread too thinly around the country. We believe the proposals will lead to a big improvement in care.”