Future of UMCG Child Heart Surgery Still Uncertain

By William Upton and Jason Smeets.

February 17th 2022. The decision to stop operating the paediatric heart surgery centres in Groningen and Leiden, which was originally met with considerable criticism, is being debated in a meeting in the Tweede Kamer today.

The decision was put forward by former Minister of Health Hugo de Jonge on the 20th December last year, right at the end of his tenure, and was immediately controversial.

The public outcry, including a petition that was signed by 262 152 people, has already led to a postponement of the decision, which will now be made in the summer. Today’s debate discussed the mishandling of the original decision.

Wieke Paulusma, of social liberal party D66, stated that she understood why the health minister tried to push the ongoing issue through but the choice should have been “different, better and more transparent”.

There are currently four medical centres that offer heart surgeries for children in the Netherlands: the LUMC in Leiden, the Erasmus MC in Rotterdam, the UMC in Utrecht and the UMCG Groningen. It is unanimously agreed by all parties that at least one should close, to concentrate expertise and provide better care.

The four current heart centres across the Netherlands (Credits: Free Vector Maps)

One reason that Hugo de Jonge’s decision was met with such backlash was the lack of supporting evidence, notably an impact analysis on what would happen if four locations were reduced to two.

This impact analysis will look in depth on the possible consequences on patients and on the care that could be provided, and was the subject of debate in today’s meeting, especially over the number of locations.

While it is agreed that the number of locations should be consolidated, Maarten Hijink, SP, said: “If the impact analysis comes back and says that three or even four centres would be best for quality healthcare then these options must remain on the table”.

Joba van de Berg, CDA, emphasised that the impact analysis should take into account the regions of these healthcare facilities, although Minister of Health Ernst Kuipers responded that the quality of healthcare must be the first thing to consider.

Closing the heart surgery centre in Leiden and Groningen comes with lots of consequences for those affected in the north of the Netherlands. Those in the northeast will have to travel at least two hours to get to Utrecht, and yet the UMC and the Erasmus MC are only an hour away from each other.

Health professionals in Groningen already feel somewhat isolated. This was stressed in Parliament by Corinne Ellemeet, GroenLinks, who said: “I visited a nursing home in Groningen where the nurses already feel they are more of a colony to the Netherlands when it comes to health care”.

The plan to close the Groningen and Leiden locations may still go ahead, as Kuipers pointed out, but this time, the decision will be considered more carefully. A second debate has already been requested for next week.

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