IT WAS a campaign spearheaded by a passion to provide the best emergency care for children in Southampton, attracting support from the worlds of sport, television and across the political divide.
Today the dream of creating a dedicated children’s accident and emergency department in the city is off and running, thanks to a landmark announcement in yesterday’s budget.
Chancellor George Osborne pledged £2 million towards the new multi-million-pound unit and in doing so marked a victory in the Daily Echo’s “Say Yes George” campaign – lobbying him to match-fund the pioneering scheme which will transform medical services for children across the South.
Mr Osborne promised to give Southampton General Hospital the cash towards a new £4.8 million children’s A&E and trauma unit in spending plans he coins as a budget for “the next generation”.
Now jubilant campaigners have paid tribute to high profile celebrities, sportspeople and politicians providing the driving force to help make the dream a reality.
But they stress that the hard work is just beginning as they mobilise to launch a fresh campaign for the community to raise the remaining £2 million for the flagship facilities.
Mr Osborne told the House of Commons he would use money raised from fining the banks for manipulating rates to fund the windfall.
He said: “I’m using the LIBOR funds specifically to help with children’s hospital services.
“Members across the House have asked for resources for children’s care in Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham and Southampton and we provide those funds today.
“A determination to improve the health of our children.”
Earlier he told the chamber he is “putting the next generation first”, adding: “Doing the right thing for the next generation is what the government and this budget is about, no matter how difficult and controversial it is.
“You cannot have a long term plan for the country unless you have a long term plan for our children’s healthcare.”
His announcement sparked celebrations among those spearheading our “Say Yes George” campaign.
As previously reported, the Daily Echo has partnered with Southampton General Hospital (SGH) and celebrities Sarah Parish and James Murray from the Murray Parish Trust to push for the new centre.
It will offer specially tailored care for young people in a “child friendly” environment – instead of them having to use busy adult A&E services.
But before funds could be raised, the government needed to agree to match-fund cash locally with £2 million from the treasury.
Saints legend Francis Benali and Little Britain star Matt Lucas are among the big names supporting the drive.
Winchester and Chandlers Ford MP Steve Brine has been instrumental in lobbying the treasury, while Mr Osborne previously said there was a “strong case” for the facilities after Southampton North and Romsey MP Caroline Nokes asked a question in parliament.
Yesterday’s announcement came less than 24 hours after David Cameron had himself backed the scheme – hailing it as a “good idea” at a high profile meeting brokered by Southampton Itchen MP Royston Smith.
Speaking after the budget Mr Smith said: “This is the best news we could have hoped for. I’m grateful to the chancellor and prime minister for listening to our representations.
“A dedicated children’s unit will serve Southampton’s poorly children and increase capacity right across the region.”
“I am pleased to have been able to play my part and I would like to pay tribute to everyone who lent support.”
Ms Nokes said she is “delighted” and added: “There has been huge support for this important project which will provide dedicated emergency care for children across the region.
“SGH has an outstanding emergency department and I know the staff will be as eager as I am to have this unit up and running as soon as possible.”
Mr Benali hailed the news saying: “It’s fantastic and a sign of all the hard work and campaigning. Now there is further work in raising the funds. It is going to help so many families in Southampton.”
Southampton Test MP Alan Whitehead said: “I am delighted that cash from the LIBOR funds will be going towards funding a dedicated children’s A&E department in Southampton, the first one outside of London in the South.”
University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust has already invested £800,000 towards the scheme.
Chief executive Fiona Dalton said: “This enables us to move forward with our plans – but we wouldn’t find ourselves in this position if we had not been fortunate enough to have the support of some very passionate and dedicated campaigners.
“We are extremely proud of the excellent clinical care our staff already deliver every day but, in order to maintain our high standards over the coming years, it is vital we improve and expand our children’s hospital facilities to meet increasing levels of demand.
“We have seen an amazing display of teamwork from so many people to get us to this point and we now look forward to working with our partners to begin planning a fundraising campaign to meet the remainder of the costs.”
The new department, hoped to one day be part of a complete multi-million-pound children’s hospital, would feature a state-of-the-art, eight-bed observation area, 11 glass fronted and soundproofed cubicles, and on-hand X-ray facilities.
The campaign aims to follow the example of an appeal that raised £3million for the Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) for children in London. The GOSH campaign saw the Treasury match-fund £1.5 million raised by Londoners.