Former Minister of Health, Hugo de Jonge, decided in December to concentrate pediatric heart surgery in Utrecht and Rotterdam. This means that specialist child care will disappear from Groningen and people will therefore only be able to get this care in the Randstad in the future.
De Jonge’s successor, Minister Ernst Kuipers, is sticking to the plan. “Concentration of care is unavoidable in order to be able to guarantee the quality of care in the future,” says Kuipers.
Letter to minister
More than forty paediatricians from the five hospitals in Overijssel expressed their concerns about the decision in a letter to Minister Kuipers. They say they fear ‘loss of specific expertise’. “That will have a major effect on child care in the region. This applies not only to care for children with congenital heart defects, but also to the continued existence of complex child care in this region as a whole.”
According to pediatrician Rolf Berger of the UMCG, the decision has major consequences for so-called highly complex care in the four northern provinces, including Overijssel. There are no exact numbers, but Berger estimates that every year about 200 to 250 people from Overijssel undergo heart surgery at the UMCG. “This is the region where the blows are now going to fall,” says the pediatrician.
This is the region where the blows are now going to fall
Not against concentration of care
Berger emphasizes that he is not against concentrating complex care in two or three hospitals. “If this improves the quality of care and makes you less vulnerable to staff loss, then I am definitely in favour. But the minister cannot explain why Groningen should close and Rotterdam and Utrecht should remain open. We are now performing at the top European level in Groningen. We have invested a lot in staff and quality in recent years, and that is now all being negated.”
In other words: according to Berger, the quality of child care in the Randstad is no better than in Groningen. “If Utrecht closes, Rotterdam will be 40 or 50 kilometers away. But if Groningen closes, it will be at least a two-hour drive for some people. For patients with a congenital heart defect, such a distance is really not optimal. All of the Northern Netherlands must come to the west soon, because there are two centers next to each other.”
We expect you to take our concerns seriously
More than heart operations
Moreover, pediatric heart surgery is much broader than just performing heart surgery, Berger emphasizes. “Think of the acute care for drowning persons, children with blood poisoning or the connection of a special heart-lung machine that requires a pediatric heart surgeon. And in Groningen we are the only Dutch hospital to perform lung transplants for children. That too will soon disappear.”
Minister Kuipers’ decision is not yet final: the House of Representatives has yet to vote on it. Berger, but also the dozens of pediatricians from Overijssel, hope that the minister will change his mind. “We expect you to take our concerns seriously and hope that you will reverse the ministerial decision,” the pediatricians write to Kuipers.
According to Health Minister Kuipers, the geographical spread is not of ‘decisive importance’. “As uncomfortable as that is.” The minister emphasizes that a large part of the care, such as diagnostics, pre- and aftercare and checks, can still be provided in the Groningen hospital in the future.