TODAY IS the day that children’s heart surgery in Southampton finally discovers its fate.

After more than a year of uncertainty hanging over the world-class unit at Southampton General Hospital, health bosses will decide this afternoon if it is saved from the axe.

The Daily Echo will be there to hear if the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts (JCPCT) has decided to listen to or ignore the 250,000 people who signed our Have a Heart petition to save the specialist surgical centre.

Hospital bosses feel Southampton has a strong case for survival but should the decision go against Southampton, city council chiefs have already vowed to go straight to Health Secretary Andrew Lansley to contest it.

The leader of Southampton City Council, Richard Williams, said: “Southampton City Council fully supports the Daily Echo’s campaign to save our children’s heart unit which is one of the best in the country and has saved and dramatically improved the lives of so many of our children.

“We believe that the only right decision that can be made today is to save this vital service but if the decision is made to close the children’s heart unit Southampton City Council will immediately make an appeal to Andrew Lansley.”

The specialist unit has saved thousands of young lives.

But if cardiac surgery at Southampton stops, 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.

Mr Lansley told the Daily Echo that council bosses would be able to launch a challenge to the verdict of the JCPCT, which has led the controversial review that gave the unit in Southampton just a 25 per cent chance of survival, despite being ranked the second best in the country.

He said that if the local authorities raise “substantive objections”, the matter will end up back on his desk - which would delay any decision by at least two months.

Ministers, including Mr Lansley, have repeated said the decision is not theirs to make, stressing the independence of the JCPCT.

But yesterday Mr Lansley, who visited the unit in Southampton last year, said: “Whatever decision they make, if it leads to a major service change, the local authorities in that area can examine it, and if they decide they have substantive objections they can refer it to me, and I have a panel that will look at it.”

He added: “The fact that a decision is being made independently doesn’t mean there isn’t scope for aspects of that decision to be referred back to me. There are - it’s just not in my court at the moment.”

If a challenge is made, the Health Secretary would refer it to an independent reconfiguration panel, which would be likely to take at least two months to make a decision, he said.

Mr Lansley could also intervene if he feels national specialist commissioning, which is his responsibility, is compromised by the committee’s decision.