BRITAIN’S top heart expert says children’s heart surgery should stay in Southampton.

The huge boost to the campaign to save the threatened unit at Southampton General Hospital came as hundreds packed Guildhall Square to confront visiting health bosses.

The rally took place on the same day the Daily Echo revealed that more than 110,000 people have signed our petition to save the unit.

As families, politicians and hospital staff chanted outside, Professor Roger Boyle, national director for heart disease and stroke for the Department of Health, admitted to 300 people at a public meetings that it would be a “pity” if we lost the world-renowned surgery in Southampton.

He was one of three experts on a panel of five, who when asked by a concerned parent if they would recommend to those making the decision that Southampton should stay, said yes.

Their backing left campaigners feeling positive as they left the Guildhall and the hospital’s chief executive, Mark Hackett, believed it was a “fantastic result” for the Daily Echo’s Have a Heart campaign and the parents.

In two highly emotional public meetings, parents and hospital staff quizzed the panel of experts about why Southampton, which was ranked second best in the country, was under threat, having only been put in one of four options put out to consultation.

Questions were asked about why travel times for patients on the Isle of Wight were not considered and why the data in the document was out of date.

Panel members were forced to apologise about the lack of consideration for young patients of the Isle of Wight, who would have to travel more than four hours for treatment if Southampton stopped surgery, longer than the recommended time of three hours.

They also admitted that there was no doubt over the quality of Southampton.

Professor Boyle said: “The quality of care available in Southampton is very high and we accept all that. So to lose the Southampton unit would be a pity just for that very reason because we know that this is a class act that has a long history of quality care.”

This came as welcome news to Mr Hackett, who thanked everyone who had signed the Daily Echo’s Have a Heart petition for helping to raise the profile of this world-class unit.

He said: “I think the meeting was fantastic today and you can see all the parents support and what this service is about: delivering excellence to children and parent and I think we have won the quality debate today with the Safe and Sustainable panel.

“And what I found especially pleasing was that by the end of it the panel agreeing that we should not only stay open but continue to flourish “I think it is a fantastic result for the campaign the Echo has launched and also that the parents have launched and I think we have a strong chance of remaining a world class centre here in Southampton.”

Marcus Haw, consultant cardiac surgeon, said: “I have been humbled by the support we have.

“What is absolutely clear is that nobody is unhappy with the service they are getting at Southampton. People have said they would move their house to come and access our service.”

Outside the Guildhall hundreds of campaigners, including celebrity couple Sarah Parish and James Murray, who have thrown their support behind the campaign, joined the rally to ensure their voices were heard.

Sarah Parish said: “It is amazing to see so many people and it is testament to how passionate people feel about keeping this cardiac unit open. It’s an amazing unit with fantastic surgeons and the thought of it even being considered for closure is ridiculous.

“We would encourage people to get out there, spread the word, sign the petition, join a rally, fill out the response forms, do whatever you can because it’s an incredibly valuable cardiac unit and it would be a horrible shame to lost it.”

James Murray added: “As you can see by the turnout today there’s such a sense of community here because it is one of the strongest, if not the strongest in the UK and it is absolutely essential it is kept open.

“It is unique. It has a research element to it so it has young blood coming in all the time and is really is pioneering and at the forefront of cardiac surgery and research and therefore it should be kept open at all costs.”

Sam Prior, mum of nine-year-old Aaron, whose life was saved by the Southampton unit, said: “We have had some very positive messages come from the panel today and I am absolutely overwhelmed by the amount of people who have come out to support us. I don’t think they could ignore us.”

Despite being ranked the second best in the country, Southampton’s 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 which will be put out for public consultation, before the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts makes its final decision.

If Southampton closed, families would be forced to get treatment in London or Bristol, at units which experts say fall below the “exemplary” standards that the city boasts.

Visit the government consultation website

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