NHS England outlines future of congenital heart disease services

NHS England has set out plans to implement exacting new standards that will ensure patients with congenital heart disease (CHD) receive the best possible care.

Hospitals that do not currently fulfil these standards, which have been developed by specialists and patients, must either show that they have a programme to do so and meet strict milestones, or stop providing treatment.

NHS England’s work has already seen patients with congenital heart disease benefiting from these standards, including full out of hours, seven day cover across the country and safer practice as procedures are only carried out by specialists.

However, in future all children with heart disease will receive inpatient care in a place where all the specialists and services they need are on-site, so that they can receive the best care without either the patient or the specialist having to travel to another hospital.

Clinicians and professional bodies, including the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, British Congenital Cardiac Association, British Heart Foundation and the Royal College of Anaesthetists have said that “isolated children’s services are unacceptable and children’s cardiac services must be co-located within a hospital providing a broad range of paediatric specialties and services.”

Every operation or interventional procedure for congenital heart disease patients will be carried out by specialist doctors whose volume of practice is sufficient to develop and maintain their skills, working in centres that are more resilient, with bigger teams, and providing full 24 hour seven day specialist care.

Professor David Anderson is a Consultant Heart Surgeon and former President of the British Congenital Cardiac Association (BCCA) has previously said: “125 really is a minimum number. It equates to three operations a week, per surgeon. Practice makes perfect. Some of the operations we do only come up once or twice a year… we must set a minimum standard in order to ensure that a surgeon has an acceptable level of skill refined and maintained through regular practice.”

The plan unveiled, which follows extensive consultation on NHS England’s proposals, will ensure that in future all hospitals will meet the new standards.

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