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Health minister summons reporter for "exclusive"

Reporter Susan Bailey was summoned to the health minister’s office at short notice expecting a ‘holding story’ for her paper’s campaign on children’s health services.

But she was welcomed by a beaming minister ready to give her a front page exclusive that the campaign to keep children’s hospital services had been won – thanks to the paper’s persistence and Susan’s long battle.

The South Wales Evening Post petition against plans by the health commission to close the children’s neurosurgery unit in Swansea and move it to Cardiff has now topped 104,000 signatures, and is thought to be the biggest put together by a single regional newspaper.

The preferred managed clinical network approach will enable hospitals along the M4 corridor to work together in partnership.

Just the day before, the paper had run a “services are saved” front page story to say the decision was delayed thanks to pressure from the Post and its readers, forcing health chiefs back to square one and a full appraisal of children’s services.

But that was all about to change, with a phone call to Welsh affairs correspondent Susan, asking her to a meeting with Assembly health minister Jane Hutt.

Susan said: “Because I was summoned I thought she was just going to tell me to back off or give assurances on a future decision, possibly next year.

“What I did not expect was to be ushered into her office and find her waiting with a big smile to say the decision has been made and our campaign was a big help.”

Friday’s paper saw five pages on the breaking news with background and comment to follow on Saturday.

The minister herself heaped praise on the Kids Come First campaign, saying it had brought into the open so many of the issues surrounding paediatric neurosurgery.

And she paid tribute to the parents and clinicians who worked hard to put their views across over the past few months.

She said: “The Post’s campaign has helped me as Minister to look at the whole picture about all specialised children’s services.

“It has identified issues. I want to thank people for getting as involved as they did and asking questions.

“When we are making decisions like this we have to get thoroughly to the bottom of what this means for children.”

Work to set up the labyrinth of networks across all specialities is expected to take two years.

But fast-track paediatric neurosurgery and a working clinical network will be set up by December, 2003.

In a comment piece for the Post, Susan wrote: “A victory for common sense has been delivered to the people of South West Wales, but now is not the time to rest on our laurels.

“Clear, persuasive arguments have emerged over the past five months which Assembly Health Minister Jane Hutt patently could not ignore.

“It would have been nothing short of a scandal if she had sanctioned the closure of our paediatric neurosurgery unit in the light of such compelling evidence. But the fighting is not finished yet.

“We have won the battle to keep paediatric emergency neurosurgery services, and that has always been at the core of the Kids Come First campaign.

“Forcing seriously injured children to by-pass Morriston Hospital and travel all the way to Cardiff was condemned by doctors and parents alike as a ridiculous and dangerous move.

“However, we don’t want Morriston to risk being downgraded to a glorified first aid centre for children with head injuries either.

“Our hospital is one of only six specialist trauma centres in the UK – the only one in Wales – and carries out complicated facial and dental surgery on children as well.

“It also removes brain tumours from young cancer patients.

“Now we must fight to ensure these planned operations, which require the skill of a paediatric neurosurgeon as part of the team, are not diminished.

“Morriston must be allowed to flourish as a centre of excellence, and that’s a clear message we won’t be letting Jane Hutt forget.”

  • The editor who kept the campaign at the top of the news agenda, George Edwards, retired last week – but sent flowers to Susan to mark the success.

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