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Southampton Test MP Alan Whitehead speaks out for heart unit
DON’T stich us up.
That was the plea from Southampton MP Alan Whitehead as the fight to save children’s heart surgery in the city was debated in Westminster.
It came just 24 hours after the Daily Echo delivered our Have a Heart petition to Number 10 – a campaign which was praised by a number of MPs on the floor of the House of Commons.
Mr Whitehead spoke passionately about the need to protect the second best unit in the country during a three-hour debate about the review into children’s cardiac services.
He said: “The NHS has a long and honourable record of stitching people up for the right reasons. If as a result of the review those 240,000 people end up feeling stitched up for the wrong reasons, they will have every right to feel very aggrieved indeed.
“The hard work undertaken by the large numbers of people who organised the petition presented at Number 10 showed not partisan fighting on behalf of a particular unit, regardless of its quality or the service that it represents, but genuine mystification that the process appears to have dealt so peripherally with Southampton’s role in the national roll-out of services.”
Praise for our campaign, which has seen the final total of signatures reach 240,094, also came from Oxford East MP Andrew Smith, who expressed his concerns if surgery at the world-renowned unit at Southampton General Hospital was to stop.
He said: “The debate shows the value of Back Bench-initiated topics, which has enabled the House to speak out on an issue of enormous concern to the public, as demonstrated by the Southern Daily Echo petition of nearly 250,000 signatures that was taken to Downing Street earlier this week in support of the Southampton centre.”
Their sentiments were echoed by several MPs from across the south, including Steve Brine, MP for Winchester and Chandlers Ford, who helped to secure the debate.
He told the Commons: “The campaign based around so-called Option B, containing children's heart surgery at Southampton, has been enormous by any measure.”
He added: “I want to be crystal clear – the team from Southampton supported the Safe and Sustainable Review taking place and on-balance still do but they were shocked to their core by a process that is about quality could put one of the world’s top centres on such a sticky wicket.”
Health Minister Simon Burns was left in no doubt after the three-hour debate as MPs set out the “excellence” of heart care at Southampton, the “enormous”
campaign to save it and the “flawed”
Mr Burns refused to discuss the merits of each hospital, insisting this was a matter for the medics leading the review.
The MPs passed a motion calling on the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts (JCPCT) to consider other alternatives when making their decision later this year.
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.
Southampton was featured in just one of four options, Option B, which has been put out for public consultation, before the JCPCT makes its final decision.
If Southampton closes, 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.