Southampton children's cardiac ward to close

Government plans to close UK’s 2nd best children’s cardiac unit in favour of ‘postcode lottery’ system.

The NHS Safe and Sustainable review was established to improve the prospects for children with congenital heart disease by pooling surgical expertise, introducing new national quality standards, and developing new children’s heart networks.

It is bewildering then, that the Safe and Sustainable review has decided that the ‘Ocean Ward’ children’s cardiac unit at Southampton General Hospital, which is the second best unit in the country according to the NHS’s own league tables, should be closed down.

A 260-page consultation document compiled by a review panel of doctors and experts working for the Safe and Sustainable review criticised Southampton’s Ocean Ward for failing to carry out the minimum requirement of performing 400 procedures a year. Presumably the current 350 procedures and the announcement in February of a new partnership with Oxford Radcliffe Hospital to take on more patients just doesn’t cut the mustard with health chiefs, who are cutting the number of cardiac centres from 11 down to 6 or 7.

Another criticism levelled at Southampton General was that its location doesn’t match up to other, more favourably positioned cardiac centres, despite the fact that Ocean Ward is the only cardiac centre in the south of England, and treats patients as far as Devon, Cornwall, the Channel Islands, and central-southern England, now including Oxford.

For some families living on the South Coast, the closure of Ocean Ward means the potential travel times to alternative centres for children needing treatment could now fall close to four hours – a figure that ironically, the Safe and Sustainable review unanimously agreed patients shouldn’t have to travel longer than, to receive treatment.

Patients living on the Isle of Wight are furious that the review fails to account for their travel times, which would exceed four hours if they had to travel to London or Bristol alternatives.

Conservative MP for New Forest East, Dr Julian Lewis, called the decision to close Ocean Ward “preposterous and perverse” during exchanges in the Commons whilst speaking to Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, who has stated that it not his job to interfere with the decision and it is not controlled by him in any sense. If this is true, then it begs the question of what exactly is Andrew Lansley’s job?

Although some supporters of the closures have said that the review was triggered during times of economic growth in the early 2000‘s and has nothing to do with money, it strikes me as strange that there are any closures at all if the decisions really have nothing to do with funding. At a time when the NHS is facing up to £20bn in cuts and back-door privatisation, it seems to me bizarre that some are saying the proposed closures of units like Ocean Ward stem from financial protection from the enormous savings the NHS has to make by 2015.

Previous governments have already demonstrated that they view bureaucracy and red tape as crucial areas to fund – it is not so much of a leap of faith to believe that the proposed closures in part originate from a lack of funding.

Supporters of the planned changes predict that consolidating cardiac units in other areas of the country will lead to an increase in efficiency and a higher quality of service. However, the risk to gravely ill children living on the South Coast that now have to travel further, at a greater cost to their families (both in travel and accommodation expenses) to seek surgery elsewhere, means that the only increase in efficiency we can be certain of at the moment will be one that benefits the government’s purse.


If you would like to get involved and show your support for Ocean Ward to remain open, you can do so through following the links below:

Sign the iPetition here:

Get involved with the Daily Echo’s ‘Have a Heart’ campaign:

Complete this consultation questionnaire and select Option B to save Ocean Ward:

Keep up to date with the latest news and stories of families’ experiences at the Children’s Cardiac Project Blog:

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