CLOSING the region’s children’s heart unit could place a burden on the ambulance service.

The specialist ambulance service used to transport ill children say they are in consultation over the plans to close the heart unit at Leeds General Infirmary.

Currently, Huddersfield children with heart conditions are treated at LGI.

As part of proposals to close the unit, children will be taken to either Liverpool or Newcastle.

But if they are too poorly for their parents to take them, it will require an ambulance to make a round trip of around 240-miles over more than four hours instead of the current 40-mile round trip from Huddersfield to Leeds.

The ambulance for Huddersfield children is provided by Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust which runs the Embrace scheme in conjunction with Yorkshire Ambulance Service.

John Reid, director of nursing and clinical operations at Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We have a strong clinical consensus that the options other than Leeds will result in a significant travel burden for our families.

“The Embrace Service transports sick children for the Yorkshire and Humber region to Leeds for cardiac review and surgery.

“Any change to Leeds designation would require much longer transport time for critically ill infants and children.

“The service has dedicated clinical teams equipped to move neonates and critically ill children between hospitals for specialist care within Yorkshire and the Humber.”

If the Leeds-based heart unit was to close, it could mean ambulances will be on transfers for longer periods as they travel further distances – and in some cases the patient may have to be transferred in a vehicle from Yorkshire Ambulance Service.

It is difficult to say how many children would require an ambulance to take them to Liverpool or Newcastle, but in April Embrace made 187 transfers, 47 paediatric and 140 neonatal.

Edgerton’s Dr Sara Matley, a consultant clinical psychologist at LGI, said at a meeting with Kirklees Local Involvement Network (LINk), a health watchdog, last month: “It places an extra pressure on the paramedics.

“And we’ve heard that if mum is too poorly to go in the ambulance with them they go in a separate ambulance, so that’s two vehicles out for that long journey.”

The Examiner has previously revealed that if the children’s unit was to close, adult services could be hit as the same surgeons carry out the operations.

More than 300 children have open heart surgery each year at LGI, while another 300 have closed-heart surgery or diagnostic tests.

If the closure option is selected, patients will have to travel elsewhere, even in cases of emergencies.

The public consultation runs until July 1 and people can sign a petition opposing the unit’s closure at or write to Sir Neil McKay, Chair of the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts, NHS East of England, 2-4 Victoria House, Capital Park, Fulbourn, Cambridge, CB21 5XB.