HE IS listening.
That was the message from the Prime Minister as the Daily Echo’s Have a Heart campaign reached Number 10 yesterday.
Chants of “save our heart unit” echoed through Downing Street as the 232,733 signatures were wheeled to the famous doorstep.
And it was the task of nine-year-olds Aaron Prior and Oliver Diaper, two children who have had their lives saved by the children’s cardiac unit at Southampton General Hospital, to knock on the shiny black door to hand over the petition.
As the door to the home of the Prime Minister slowly opened, Winchester and Chandlers Ford MP, Steve Brine, confirmed that David Cameron told him that he was listening to the concerns of campaigners.
Mr Brine, who has secured a three-hour debate in the House of Commons today about the review into children’s cardiac services, told the Daily Echo that he had spoken to Mr Cameron about the campaign and the debate on Tuesday evening.
He said: “The Prime Minister told me that he was listening intently to the cases being made. I and other MPs have been bombarding him about this review and he is fully aware of the process and the Southampton problem.
“I am increasingly confident of the impact of this campaign launched by the Daily Echo and the people power behind it.
“Handing in this petition is another stage in telling those conducting the review to think again.”
Those words were welcomed with cheers from the campaigners, believing this puts further pressure on the health bosses who hold the fate of Southampton’s specialist unit in their hands.
The journey began yesterday morning at Southampton General Hospital where more than 40 campaigners eagerly stepped on board the coach, provided by Princess Coaches.
Spirits were high on the bus, with young patients and their families excitedly anticipating the arrival at Number 10 after 17 weeks of campaigning.
Tourists stopped in their tracks as the army of campaigners arrived at Whitehall, eager to know why they were there and offering their support.
A crowd gathered to watch as the ten tightly packed boxes were wheeled to the iron gates of Downing Street, cheering as the short walk to the door began.
A handful of campaigners were allowed to accompany the petition, along with 11 MPs from across the south coast, who ditched party lines and braved the sudden downpour to show their support for a campaign that has captured the hearts of the region.
As the door slowly opened, Aaron and Oliver received a round of applause, handing over the first box of 25,000 signatures to the policeman on guard at Number 10.
Aaron, who has had four open-heart operations, said: “I hope the Prime Minister gets the message. This is why I came here today, to persuade him to keep the second-best heart unit in the country open.”
His mum Sam added: “It has been really fantastic to come here and deliver more than 232,000 names on our petition, all calling the Prime Minister to help save our fantastic unit in Southampton.
“I was really pleased to see so many MPs here supporting us, not just from surrounding areas, but from along the south coast, which really helps make a difference.
“The Prime Minister should not ignore this strength of feeling. It is clear how passionate so many people are about ensuring quality for our children.
“I would like to thank everybody who has signed the petition and say a massive thank you to the Daily Echo for launching this campaign and all the coverage they have given us over the last four months.
“It has been phenomenal, outstanding, amazing and has helped us to spread the word about our world-renowned unit that is under threat.”
Iain Macintosh, director of the paediatric intensive care unit at Southampton General Hospital, also joined the campaigners at the door, having spoken passionately at a number of public events and meetings about how much of a loss it would be if surgery stopped in the city.
Despite being ranked the second-best in the country our paediatric heart unit is under threat as health chiefs look to cut the UK’s 11 centres down to six or seven. The aim is to have fewer larger centres which they claim will improve heart surgery quality across England.
Southampton was featured in just one of four options which will be put out for public consultation, before the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts (JCPCT) makes its final decision.
If Southampton closed, families would be forced to get life-saving treatment in London or Bristol, at units which experts say fell below the “exemplary” standards that the city boasts.
Dr Macintosh said “This petition has been an incredible achievement and is a reflection of how the community across the south coast understands how significant this problem is.
“Chatting to the MPs here today, they understand it is not a local “I want to save my service”, it is about a service that can help lots of people, even beyond the south coast and it is a high quality service.”
The Department of Health said that no decisions have been made and has urged all those with views to take part in the consultation.
The debate in the House of Commons started at 12.30pm.