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12 June 2013, 13:22
Plans to close three children's heart surgery units have been suspended by the Health Secretary, putting the future of Southampton General Hospital's in doubt again.
Jeremy Hunt said that plans to close the units in Leeds, Leicester and west London were to be put on hold after an independent review suggested that the consultation process was based on "flawed analysis".
The Safe and Sustainable Review, which concluded that Leeds General Infirmary (LGI), Glenfield Hospital in Leicester and the Royal Brompton in west London should stop providing paediatric cardiac surgery, has been heavily criticised and campaigners have fought ferociously against the closure of the units.
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Hunt said he had asked NHS England to continue with the process of looking into the reorganisation of children's heart surgery and asked them to report back by the end of July.
Before Mr Hunt made his announcement, Prime Minister David Cameron said:
"I think we have to be frank with people that we can't expect really technical surgery - like children's heart operations, to be carried out at every hospital in the country.
"As the parent of a desperately ill child, wanting to get the best care for that child, you need to know that you're getting something that is world best.
"For really technical operations you can't get that everywhere.
"Clearly the conclusion is that this process, which started in 2008, hasn't been carried out properly so we need to make a re-start."
Mr Hunt said local health scrutiny committees in the areas affected by the closures expressed concerns about the review process and the matter was referred to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP).
"(The IRP) strongly agrees with the case for change,'' said Mr Hunt.
"However, the report also concludes that the outcome of the Safe and Sustainable Review was based on a flawed analysis of the impact of incomplete proposals and leaves too may questions about sustainability and implementation.
"This is clearly a serious criticism of the safe and sustainable process.
"I therefore accept their recommendation that the proposals cannot go ahead in their current form and am suspending the review today."
The original decision to close the three units was part of a general review of services across England based on the premise that there was a need to concentrate expertise in more specialist centres.
The plan was to reduce the current 10 units to seven. Last year's decision meant Southampton's would be among those remaining open, but that is now up in the air again.
The IRP said that "the case for change remains".
It made a series of recommendations as to how officials should proceed with the process of streamlining services.
NHS England said it will "lead a rethink of plans" to improve children's heart surgery.
Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, Medical Director for NHS England said:
"We welcome the review and NHS England will now study its recommendations in full to learn from them.
"We will institute a new process that recognises the very strong case for redesigning services to meet the demands of the future whilst addressing the legitimate concerns in our local communities."