04/07/2012 05:02 BST

Royal Brompton To Learn Whether Children's Heart Surgery Units To Close

A leading hospital which was at the centre of a bitter legal dispute will learn whether its children's heart surgery unit is to close on Wednesday.

The Royal Brompton in Chelsea, west London, argued that the consultations around the streamlining of paediatric heart surgery services in England were unlawful.

But the hospital, which is the largest specialist heart and lung centre in the UK and among the largest centres in Europe, lost the legal row in April after it fought all the way to the Court of Appeal.

royal brompton

The Royal Brompton has fought to keep its children's heart surgery unit open

The row stemmed from a consultation process launched by the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts (JCPCT) of England as part of a national review aimed at streamlining paediatric congenital cardiac surgery services (PCCS).

The Safe and Sustainable review followed the landmark inquiry into children's heart surgery at Bristol Royal Infirmary between 1990 and 1995, where up to 35 children and babies died as a result of poor care.

In the wake of the inquiry, it was recommended that paediatric cardiac units be set a target for the number of operations per year, and surgery be concentrated in a few specialist centres in order to ensure quality of care.

One of the options being considered by the JCPCT was to run just two centres in London. There are currently three.

The Royal Brompton argued that the proposals could put its future in doubt, but the Court of Appeal ruled that the consultation process was fair.

Chris Ham, chief executive of The King's Fund health think-tank, said: "The Royal Brompton case is emblematic of the challenges faced generally in the NHs over the question of how we can improve outcomes for patients. Surgeons who do more of these procedures get better at it."

The JCPCT will today decide which of the 11 specialist units in England will stay open.

As few as six of the 11 units could remain open. The 11 hospitals include three London hospitals - the Royal Brompton, Evelina Hospital, which is part of Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital Trust and Great Ormond Street - and eight more around the country.

The other institutions which will learn their fate today are: the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, Leeds General Infirmary, Birmingham Children's Hospital, Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, Glenfield Hospital in Leicester, Southampton General Hospital and Bristol Royal Hospital for Children.

John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford was originally part of the consultation but it suspended its children's heart programme in 2010.

While only a few hospitals will be offering heart surgery, children will still have access to services closer to home for ongoing care.