Hospitals in Leicester, Leeds and the Royal Brompton in London are to stop performing heart surgery on children, it has been announced.
In a move to streamline paediatric heart services, three of the 10 specialist units in England will stop performing such procedures on children.
The move comes after an NHS review which concluded that expertise was spread too thinly in the 10 sites and should be concentrated in fewer hospitals. The Royal Brompton in Chelsea, west London, Leeds General Infirmary and Glenfield Hospital in Leicester will not stop providing surgery immediately as plans to implement the new streamlined service are still being developed.
It is understood that implementation of the streamlined services is expected to take place throughout 2013. Once they stop providing surgery the units will still see patients for diagnosis, monitoring and non-surgical treatment.
The consultation process was 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 hospitals angered by the decision is the Royal Brompton which was at the centre of a bitter legal dispute surrounding the consultation process. A spokeswoman from the hospital said as a result of the decision, the Royal Brompton will also lose its children's intensive care unit.
Bob Bell, chief executive of the Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust, said: "It is very difficult to know what to say at times like these. But it is even more difficult to try and understand how this committee could have come to such a decision.
"Over the past 18 months we have seen respiratory charities like the Cystic Fibrosis Trust and Asthma UK, independent clinicians from around the world, and many anxious parents, highlighting time and time again the damaging effects on specialist respiratory care for children if Royal Brompton's paediatric intensive care unit is closed.
"I will now discuss this decision with the Trust's Board and Governors' Council to determine our next steps. One thing is certain - I will not be asking them for the mandate to manage the destruction of a highly valued and respected children's unit."