Nothing mobilises a community quite like a hospital reconfiguration. Especially, it turns out, when the service threatened with possible closure is a children’s heart unit.
A national programme to concentrate surgical expertise into six or seven specialist centres proposes closing at least four existing units. Consultation led by NHS Specialised Services closes on 1 July – and this week a campaign to retain services in the South Central region reached its peak.
Four options are under consideration, and none of them involved retaining a surgery unit at Oxford Radcliffe Hospital. The unit has not done any children’s heart operations for a year after a series of deaths, and has instead entered into a partnership with Southampton University Hospital.
Care is delivered on both sites, with Oxford retaining the specialism but leaving the surgical work to Southampton. The combined South of England congenital heart network conducts 340 operations a year, compared with the 100 or so Oxford used to carry out on its own.
So far, so inspiringly joined up. But Southampton’s child heart surgery unit would be closed as well in all but one of the proposed scenarios.
A campaign was launched and a 225,000-signature petition in support of the Southampton unit was sent to Downing Street. Isle of Wight PCT weighed in, pointing out how far its residents would have to travel if Southampton closed.
But, with child heart surgery at stake, you suspect similarly plausible cases will have been made for other units suggested for closure in Leicester, Leeds, Newcastle and London. A final decision is expected in November.