International centres call for children's heart surgery to stay in Southampton

Leaders of some of the world’s most prestigious medical centres have called for children’s heart surgery to stay at Southampton General Hospital.

Experts based in the USA, Canada, France, Switzerland, Sweden, Egypt, Nepal, Malaysia and the Netherlands have come forward to highlight the unit’s international prominence following the review of paediatric cardiac surgery centres across the country.

The review, which recommends that fewer, larger centres should be created in England, put forward four options of hospitals to retain the service in February.

Although an independent assessment of the 11 centres that currently perform surgery rated Southampton the second highest in the country for quality, it is included in only one option – despite having the expertise to perform the most complex operations.

Among the high-profile figures are the University Hospital of Bordeaux’s Professor Francis Fontan, pioneer of the Fontan procedure used to treat complex congenital heart conditions, and Dr Barbara Deal, divisional head of cardiology at the Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

“For years and even decades, this department has been seen in France, particularly by myself, in Europe and in the whole international community of cardiac surgeons as a department of reference in terms of surgical results,” said Prof Fontan.

“I sincerely hope that this unit, pride of English cardiac surgery, will not be considered for closure but instead will be allowed to continue its activities on the trail of excellence.”

Dr Deal, who has worked in collaboration with the unit over the past 13 years, praised the level of “professionalism, excellence and interest” which “distinguishes the group among others in the UK”.

She added: “The level of excellence achieved by the group in Southampton is not easily transferable to another centre, nor easily reproducible, based on my experience.”   

Their views were echoed by Dr William Williams, director of the Congenital Heart Surgeons’ Society Data Centre at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, who commended the team for its involvement in the development of primary repair neonatal heart surgery.

“Southampton is recognised internationally as an outstanding academic paediatric surgery centre of excellence and its leadership in infant surgery has resulted in a large cohort of patients maturing into adulthood,” he said.

“It would be difficult for the international community of congenital cardiac medicine and surgery to understand why Southampton should not be supported into the future.”

Others backing the unit include Dr Heidi Connolly of the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, Dr Michael Landzberg of the Boston Adult Congenital Heart Group at Harvard Medical School, Dr Douglas Mathisen of Massachusetts General Hospital, Professor Pascal Vouhé of the Necker Hospital in Paris, Dr Andrew Wechsler of Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia and Dr. L. Henry Edmunds Jr. of the University of Pennsylvania.

The team has also received letters of support from Mr Marko Turina of University Hospital Zurich, Professor Barbara Mulder of the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam, Professor Salah-Eldin Amry of Assuit University, Dr Hasri Samion of the National Heart Instituite in Kuala Lumpur, Professor Baral of Kathmandu Medical College and Thomas Higgins of the Children's Heart Centre in Lund.

Posted on Friday 1 July 2011