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24 May 2011, 12:05 | Updated: 30 March 2016, 13:50
Patients, parents and staff have welcomed as a "significant step forward" comments made by members of an expert panel who backed calls for children's heart surgery to stay at Southampton General Hospital.
During packed public consultation events at Southampton Guildhall on Tuesday May 24th (as part of the review of paediatric cardiac surgery) three influential clinicians on the five-man NHS Safe and Sustainable panel responded yes when asked whether or not they would recommend Southampton is designated a surgical centre.
The review, which recommends that fewer, larger centres should be created in England, put forward four options of hospitals to retain the service in February.
Despite being rated by experts, led by Professor Sir Ian Kennedy, as the second-highest performing of the 11 centres currently operating in England, Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust is included in only one of the options.
Hundreds of campaigners flocked to Guildhall Square to voice their opinions during the meetings, while more than 600 people listened to the panel's responses, which included comments from the Government's heart tsar that described Southampton as a "class act".
Professor Roger Boyle, the Department of Health's national director for heart disease and stroke, said Southampton's centre provides a "very high" quality of care and to lose the unit would be a "pity".
He was joined in his endorsement by Dr Ian Jenkins, immediate past president of the Paediatric Intensive Care Society and supported in later comments from Professor Shakeel Qureshi, a consultant paediatric cardiologist at the Evelina Children's Hospital.
The panel praised the Trust's new permanent partnership with the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, which sees all major children's heart procedures referred to Southampton, while life-long care for those patients remains in Oxford's specialist cardiology unit – meeting the core safe and sustainable principles.
Mark Hackett, chief executive of SUHT, who joined current and former patients, staff and members of the public at the rally and sat in on both meetings, said the comments show the high regard Southampton is held in by clinicians in the field nationally.
"These events and the public rally show we as a group – our patients, families, staff and colleagues – will not settle for mediocrity in our NHS.
"The positive response from the panel represents a significant step forward for Southampton in this process and one that we hope lays the foundations for us to continue developing the world-class service we have built here over 40 years."
For information and to have a say on the consultation, which runs for four months, visit the Review of Childrens Congenital Cardiac Services section on www.specialisedservices.nhs.uk/safeandsustainable
Lots of families from across the south coast are took part in the rally and campaign to keep the centre in Southampton open. It included Sam Prior from Locks Heath near Fareham. Her 9 year old son was born with a heart condition and regularly needs treatment at the centre.
"He's had 4 major operations since he was born, including one when he was just 4 days old. When you reflect on it I think how they hell did I get through those days - but we were in the best hands. The staff are amazing and I had complete faith in them and the surgeons. I'd go so far as to say they're almost like members of the family. They've known our child since he was born and watched him grow and change and flourish into a caring happy little boy. To separate the team would be awful."
Sam claims the review looking at which centers should stay open and which should close seems to be focussing more on 'location and geography' instead of quality of care. She said:
"I'm sure any parent of a sick child would agree with me that you would go anywhere to get your child the treatment they need - but we aren't angry about the thought of more traveling - we don't have a problem with having to go to other centers across the country. The issue here is that Southampton's unit is one of the best and it's just ridiculous to even think about closing it in favour of other centres which aren't as good. Would you want your child to get treatment at the best centre or one which isn't rated as highly?"
She added: "Closing the cardiac unit at Southampton would also mean the hospitals paediatric intensive care ward would lose a number of beds. If your child was in an accident or needed emergency treatment, with fewer beds it could mean they won't get the care they need.
Find out more about the campaign by clicking here