By Melanie Adams
Southern Daily Echo – 21 April 2011
Campaigners fighting to save children’s heart surgery in Southampton are demanding a rethink into the process that has put the unit in jeopardy. They have found that two of the reasons why Southampton’s top performing unit is under threat are based on 'flawed' and 'out-of-date' evidence that needs to be looked at again if children are going to get the best quality care.
A committee of top doctors and experts compiled the evidence that put the centre at risk, despite it being ranked the second-best in the country, as health bosses look to reduce the UK's 11 centres to six or seven. Yesterday Fiona Smith, part of that team, admitted to the Daily Echo some information going against the city’s unit is out of date but added new and updated evidence would be considered as part of the consultation process. Sam Prior, whose son Aaron has had four open heart surgery operations, said:
"The 260 page consultation document that has been released to show how the options have been decided is flawed. The review panel needs to address some very grave concerns over discrepancies in the consultation document before they can gain the confidence of the patients and the families that what they are proposing is for the very best quality care."
A major black mark against Southampton in the consultation document, complied by the Safe and Sustainable Review, is that it fails to reach the minimum requirement of carrying out 400 procedures a year. It states Southampton only does 250, but this has failed to take into account the extra work taken on by the unit following the closure of children’s heart surgery in Oxford last year.
Southampton is now performing 350 operations and has four surgeons to cope with 400 a year. Dr Julian Lewis, MP for New Forest East, who is backing the Daily Echo's Have a Heart Campaign, said:
"Whilst one can understand that they looked at a lower total previously, now that Southampton has taken so much of the work from Oxford, that particular reason for making continuation at Southampton a low priority no longer stands up."
The second cause for concern relating to the document, which was used by the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts to finalise the four options put out for public consultation, is the 'flawed' information relating to travel times. Clinicians agreed patients shouldn't have to travel longer than four hours by road to get treatment at a specialist heart unit and calculations showed if Southampton went, its patients would be within four hours of another centre.
Campaigners say these calculations are flawed because it does not take into account travel times for patients on the Isle of Wight, who would have to travel longer than four hours to get to London or Bristol. Dr Lewis added:
"Throughout this process those conducting the review have put excess emphasis on the question of distance and insufficient emphasis on the question of quality. Now we find that even when distance is considered they haven’t properly calculated the time it would take to get children from the Isle of Wight to a specialist children’s heart unit.
"We can only hope that the new information will be used sensibly by the review team to retreat from the perverse conclusion that one of the best two children’s heart units in the country should be phased out. This is a flaw in the review, a straight forward blunder that needs to be readdressed to strengthen Southampton’s position."
When asked by the Daily Echo about these concerns Mrs Smith said:
"All additional and new information is going to be considered as part of the consultation process. We are aware that further consideration for the Isle of Wight, the Scilly Isles and Channel Islands is required. In light of the information we have received, we will be giving further consideration to retrieval times from London and Bristol.
"The situation in Southampton is changing. There will also be exploration to see whether Southampton would be able to manage a network of 400 cases as well as looking at other factors such as if families would be willing to travel to Southampton, even though they live closer to London."