'PERVERSE DECISION' TO PUT CHILDREN’S HEART UNIT AT RISK

By Melanie Adams

Southern Daily Echo – 28 April 2011

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley was told closing Southampton’s children’s heart surgery unit would be "preposterous and perverse" as the campaign to save it was taken to Parliament. During exchanges in the Commons chamber Conservative MP Julian Lewis left the Cabinet Minister in no doubt about the implications of scrapping the specialist cardiac unit at Southampton General Hospital, telling him it was the second best in the country.

Mr Lansley, who was branded a coward when he dodged crowds of protesters by using a back entrance during a visit to the hospital in March, urged the consultation team to “consider the points” Dr Lewis raised. But he refused to give any guarantees insisting he hoped it would be clear that all of the arguments had been properly considered when a decision was finally taken. With nine weeks left to go before the public consultation closes on July 1, more than 50,000 people have signed the Daily Echo’s Have a Heart petition calling to save the threatened unit.

During the health question session in the Commons Dr Lewis said:

"When the consultation on the future of children’s heart surgery units is complete, will the Secretary of State bear it in mind that it would be a preposterous and perverse conclusion that the unit in Southampton, which is one of the two best in the country, should be threatened with closure?"

The closure plans are part of a nationwide review of children’s heart surgery sparked by concerns that expertise is spread too thinly. Health bosses are looking to cut the UK’s 11 centres down to six or seven. Four sets of proposals have been devised, three of which involve closing children’s heart surgery at Southampton’s unit despite it being assessed by the experts as the second best centre in the country.

If Southampton closed, families would be forced to get lifesaving treatment in London or Bristol, at units which experts say fell below the “exemplary” standards that the city boasts. A decision is expected to be announced in November.

Mr Lansley said:

"I am, of course, aware of these issues. At this stage, may I simply reiterate that the consultation team should consider the points that I know Dr Lewis and others are making to it? After the consultation team has fully reflected on all the points, I hope MPs will be able to see that it has fully taken them into account in whatever proposals it brings forward."