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A rally is taking place in Southampton to show support for the children's cardiac centre at the city's general hospital, which could be closed under NHS plans.
People are being invited to join in with the rally, which is taking place between 4-6pm outside The Guildhall on Tuesday 24th May.
More than 600 patients past and present, relatives, staff and members of the public will also be having their say about the future of the service, through meetings set up as part of the NHS safe and sustainable public consultation.
Mark Hackett, chief executive of SUHT, said: "I believe the NHS must recognise that this centre has been setting standards for children's heart surgery nationally for a number of decades and if it closes this will affect quality for patients.
"More than 85,000 people have already signed their names in support of the campaign and momentum is growing by the day, so we want as many of them as possible to come forward and give their backing in person at the rally."
A long-running national review of paediatric cardiac surgery is recommending that fewer, larger centres should be created in England, with a decision last week to put forward four options on where these should be developed.
Despite being rated by experts, led by Professor Sir Ian Kennedy, as the second-highest performing of 11 centres in England that provide this service, Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust is included in only one of the options.
“An independent review has rated Southampton as providing the highest quality of service outside London and we are regularly recognised both nationally and internationally for our surgical outcomes," said Dr Michael Marsh, medical director at SUHT.
"We are all obviously extremely disappointed to have only a one in four chance of retaining this exemplary service for patients from across the UK.
"It is vital that every single person who wants to keep such a world-class facility providing the highest quality care to severely ill children comes forward and submits their views during the public consultation.”
There are currently more than 10,000 patients with congenital heart disease either directly under review in Southampton or seen in partnership with the south of England referring network and, during 2010, Southampton performed 404 congenital heart surgery procedures.
A new permanent partnership with the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford now sees all major children’s heart procedures referred to Southampton, while life-long care for those patients remains in Oxford – meeting the principles of providing expert surgical care in larger centres and preventing constant travel for follow-up treatment.
Dr Marsh added:
“The Southampton-Oxford clinical relationship puts us ahead of the game in combining skills and teams to create a comprehensive and high quality service for children with heart disease in the south of England and ensures families in all areas have access to excellent local care.”
For information and to have a say on the consultation, which runs for four months, visit the Review of Children’s Congenital Cardiac Services section on www.specialisedservices.nhs.uk/safeandsustainable
Lots of families from across the south coast are taking part in the rally and campaign to keep the centre in Southampton open. It includes Sam Prior from Locks Heath near Fareham, Hampshire. 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 seperate the team would be awful."
Sam claims the review looking at which centres 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 travelling - we don't have a problem with having to go to other centres 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.
Nicky Broadbank is a mum from Poole who has also joined the campaign to try and keep Southampton General's unit open. She's been taking her four year old son William there since he was born and is urging people to sign her petition:
“It really worried they won’t choose the sites based on the quality of care, but on which location is best. Because if it was about care then surely Southampton General would be an automatic option for the south coast area as it’s been ranked one of the best.”
“I’ve not started this petition because I have an issue with travelling further – I don’t mind that – it’s the thought of losing such a great team that worries me. Everyone at the unit in Southampton General is like one big family and they know William and his heart inside out. He’s had the same surgeon operating on him since he was born and the thought of taking him to another hospital where the care isn’t as good, is really really scary.
“Please sign the petition and do as much as you can to make sure Southampton’s heart unit for kids isn’t closed. I’ll be putting copies in libraries, shops, schools and anywhere else that I can in Poole. But you can also sign it online.”
Find out more about the campaign by clicking here