AS they hugged each other in jubilation at the news children’s heart surgery in Southampton had been saved, campaigners patients and doctors thought the battle had been won.

But now, three months on, that decision faces a fresh challenge after the government ordered a review of its own plans to close three other UK units.

Campaigners in Southampton claim the move will put children’s lives at risk as both time and money is spent on “needless reviews”.

After a process that took almost a year and a half to complete, hampered by a judicial review and subsequent appeal, the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts announced in July that Southampton would be among seven national specialist centres that would continue performing heart surgery on children.

Victory came after a massive campaign which culminated in over 250,000 people signing the Daily Echo’s Have A Heart petition which was taken to Downing Street.

But after concerns were raised by two of the three hospitals that were told they would be closing, a preliminary review of the decision has now been ordered.

Now the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP) has concluded a full probe is merited prompting the Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt to order a complete review of the original committee’s decision.

A spokeswoman confirmed that while the initial review centred around the decision to close services at the Glenfield hospital in Leicester, the full probe would look at the entire process and whether the decisions reached were “safe, sustainable and accessible”

to all patients.

Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, told MPs: “It’s going to be a totally impartial review, it’s going to be a very thorough review.”

When asked whether the whole process could be repeated as a result of the review, a Department of Health spokesman said they would not want to speculate on the findings of the panel that is due to report back in February.

Although bosses at Southampton General Hospital say it is business as usual campaigners say the latest news could only put more children’s lives at risk.

Deb Banyard, mum of five-yearold Cora who received groundbreaking surgery at Southampton, said: “This is a complete about turn and shows a huge lack of backbone by the government who seem to be unable to make a decision and stick to it.

“A whole heap of money is being wasted, money that could be spent on health services and research that they so dearly claim to want to improve.”

She added that while she did not doubt Southampton would keep its status as a specialist centre due to the overwhelming evidence in its favour, she felt the ongoing uncertainly would hamper progress.

“I believe that this will ultimately put children’s lives at risk,” she said.

Her views were echoed by Southampton Itchen MP John Denham who said: “For the children’s sake it is time to get on with it. It is now getting really alarming as the whole point of this process was to minimise the number of children who needlessly die during surgery at hospitals that are not well equipped enough.

“It is time now for the sake of the children to press ahead in making it work as it is unfair on children, their families and the doctors themselves to have this further uncertainty.”

Sir Neil McKay CB, Chairman of the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts, said they stood by their decision and added he had raised concerns that any delay to the implementation of the proposals would result in more uncertainly for families.

He said: “The decision on the future of children’s heart services, which was welcomed by Royal Colleges of medicine, doctors, nurses and national charities, was made after carefully considering a number of factors, which included evidence on patient travel times, transferring services and demand on surgical services.

“The IRP has noted the JCPCT’s concern that the process of challenging the decision risks further uncertainty for children’s heart services in England.”

The process could be further delayed by a separate legal challenge by Leeds hospital by campaigners who have lodged permission to seek a judicial review on their closure.

Mr Hunt said that the review would be suspended if the judicial review was granted.