SOUTHAMPTON bosses have reassured families that they will continue to get top quality care despite the uncertainty hanging over the future of children’s heart surgery.

Dr Michael Marsh thanked patients and their families for their support throughout the long and drawn out process and said that Southampton General Hospital looks forward to completing the process.

It comes after the health secretary today suspended the review that saved the unit at Southampton from the axe.

Jeremy Hunt spoke in the House of Commons this lunchtime to announce that he had accepted the findings of the Independent Review Panel that he had instructed to investigate the decision to close four children's heart unit in the UK.

It found that the Safe and Sustainable review was based on “flawed analysis” and raised “serious criticisms” over the whole process which started five years ago to improve services for youngsters born with heart conditions and has so far cost £6m.

Steve Brine, MP for Winchester and Chandler’s Ford said that the announcement was met with a “deep sigh” in the city as it prolonged the worry for staff and patients.

Mr Hunt said that this did not mean that everyone would have to cover the same ground that had already been covered in the last five years and made it clear that the case for fewer, larger specialist centres was still accepted as the way forward.

He added that NHS England would have to report back to him by the end of July on how they would now move forward to make the changes.

This means that the future of the heart unit at Southampton General Hospital, which was saved last July when the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts decided it would become of the seven specialist centres, remains in the balance.

Staff, patients and their families threw their backing behind the Daily Echo's Have a Heart campaign to save the unit, which collected more than 250,000 signatures on its petition.

Now they face yet another agonising wait to see what the future will hold.

Sam Paris, who campaigned hard to save the unit which treated her son Sam, now 14, said: “It is ridiculous.

“I cannot believe that we are going to have to start all over again.

“To have spent all this money and all this time on making this decision to then be back at square one is absurd.

“Having to go through it all the first time is pretty horrendous but we would of course fight again to save Southampton’s unit because it is the best there is.”

Dr Michael Marsh, medical director at University Hospital Southampton, said: “Following today’s decision, we want to reassure families that the Southampton-Oxford partnership will continue to thrive and provide children from across the south of England with a high quality, high performing service that will continue to grow and expand over the coming weeks and months.

“Once again, we cannot thank our patients and their families enough for their tremendous support throughout this process and they should all be extremely proud of the part they have played in helping us to firmly establish Southampton’s reputation as an international centre of excellence for children’s heart services.

“There is much for us to reflect positively on from this experience and we now look forward to helping NHS England complete the reconfiguration process to ensure all children have access to the highest quality surgical centres.”

Mr Brine added: "This news will be greeted with a deep sigh in Southampton because it extends the uncertainty and worry for the Trust, clinicians and parents.

"Nothing however changes the basic facts about Southampton which were established by the Safe & Sustainable process.

"The quality of the operations carried out, the co-location of other acute paediatric and adult services and crucially, the clinical network across to Oxford mean Southampton remains in the strongest of positions."