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South Coast daily’s fight to save heart unit thwarted

The decision on the future of a children’s heart unit that was at the centre of a newspaper’s award-winning campaign has been delayed until next year.

The Southern Daily Echo launched Have a Heart earlier this year when health bosses announced they wanted to close the unit at Southampton General Hospital.

A High Court judge this week quashed a consultation that put the unit under threat because it was ‘unlawful’.

A decision was due to be made next month but it will now be months before families and campaigners know whether the unit will be saved from closure.

The Echo reported this week that medics and campaigners have been left frustrated following the review which was launched by London’s Royal Brompton Hospital.

It also says that Southampton hospital bosses are disappointed, having felt confident that the case to keep the city’s world-renowned unit had been strengthened during the four-month consultation period earlier this year.

Echo editor Ian Murray wrote in a leader:  “It is understandable that any of the hospitals caught in the flawed consultation into the future of child heart surgery in Britain would fight to seek a fair hearing.

“The hundreds of thousands of people who have supported this paper’s campaign to keep open the child cardiac unit at Southampton General Hospital will understand why those at London’s Royal Brompton Hospital were just as adamant to see justice done.

“Both campaigning groups understood how the consultation carried out by the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts had not looked into the balance of care being provided nationally in a logical and indeed accurate manner.

“And while Monday’s decision by the High Court to rule in support of Brompton’s appeal to halt the proceedings was a blow to local campaigners wanting to see if the massive petition raised in Hampshire of over 250,000 names would sway opinion, at least it appeared those efforts would be taken into account in any new consultations.

“Now, as this paper reports today, that is in doubt. The huge petition may simply be ignored. This would be a travesty of justice. The sentiments voiced will remain the same.

“We must hope this already flawed procedure is not further compromised by yet another act of folly.”

Last month the newspaper won the community campaign of the year prize at the EDF Energy London and South of England Media Awards after 250,000 backed its campaign calling on the Prime Minister to safeguard the ward.

The Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts is launching an appeal against the ruling. If that is unsuccessful there could be a second public consultation before a final decision is made next spring.

Health bosses have reassured the campaigners their fight has not been futile and will be considered as part of a second consultation if the appeal fails.