CAMPAIGNERS who fought so hard to save children’s heart surgery in Southampton were once again under pressure to prove just how vital the service is to critically ill youngsters across the south.

Just five months after celebrating the news that Southampton’s paediatric cardiac unit had been saved from the axe, surgeons, nurses and parents spent yesterday trying to convince an independent panel that the right decision was made.

Yesterday the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP) was at Southampton General Hospital as they continue their review into the decision taken by the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts (JCPCT) to close three units in the UK.

The review was sparked after two of the three hospitals, Leeds Infirmary and Glenfield Hospital in Leicester, raised concerns over the decision, prompting the Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt to order a full probe into the decision made in July.

But Sam Prior – one of the mums who celebrated victory in July after a massive campaign to save Southampton’s unit, which culminated in more than 250,000 people signing the Daily Echo’s Have a Heart petition that was taken to Downing Street – believes lives are being put at risk by these “unnecessary” delays.

She said: “Two years ago we asked the then Secretary of State, Andrew Lansley, to step in during the consultation process and ensure a fair and open consultation, but he declined. If they had done that then, this further delay would not be necessary. It’s unfair to put us all through this again.

“However, I am confident that we were able to put Southampton’s strong case forward, because when it comes to quality we are the second best in the country and that has never been in doubt.

“In fact we are in an even stronger position than we were when the consultation started because we have a working relationship with Oxford, which is exactly what the review is aspiring to create.”

She added that the panel heard from a number of families who had chosen to have their child treated at Southampton, rather than in London as they wanted their child to received treatment in the best quality centre.

The panel, chaired by Lord Ribeiro, is visiting all ten children’s cardiac centres to “assess” the evidence and “listen” to the views of those involved to ensure the decisions reached were “safe and sustainable” to all patients.

When asked if Southampton would be safe Lord Ribeiro was unable to give any reassurances, saying: “We do not make decisions, we purely provide the Secretary of State with advice based on the evidence undertaken during our review.”

He added that this was not about comparing Southampton with other units and that this was a “listening” process to see if the decision by the JCPCT meant that children with congenital heart disease were getting the quality of care they need. He said: “We can understand that people would be anxious but this is a democratic process.”

The IRP will make recommendations to the Health Secretary by March 28. The final decision on any changes to services will be made by Mr Hunt.

To have your say in the review you can email, or write to IRP, 6th Floor, 157-197 Buckingham Palace Road, London, SW1W 9SP or leave a voice message on 020 7389 8046.