Big response to children's heart surgery consultation
More than 75,000 people have responded to a consultation about re-organising children's heart surgery in England.
The option preferred by a majority of patients and the public would see an end to operations at Leeds and Southampton.
But most organisations including NHS trusts and heart charities backed another option, which would exclude surgery at Leeds and Leicester.
A committee of primary care trusts will make a final decision later this year.
All four options put forward by the review team involve ending children's heart surgery at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London. It is challenging the process in a High Court case next month.
The review is looking at how to group complex children's heart surgery into fewer, larger centres. The idea is that concentrating surgical expertise will improve safety and quality of care.
Most respondents supported the principles underlying the proposals - including the aim that young heart surgery patients should receive the highest standards of NHS care. And there was high support for the need for round-the-clock care.
But only 46% of individuals who responded agreed that services needed to change, and some expressed concern that families would have to travel further for surgery.
The 'Safe and Sustainable' team said the four-month consultation was one of the largest ever carried out by the NHS.
Around 10% of the responses were from children and young people. There were more than 22,000 responses by text.
The consultation also received 25 petitions - including one signed by 445,945 people wanting to save paediatric heart surgery in Leeds.
When the plans are implemented in 2013, the number of hospitals performing this type of surgery in England will reduce from 10 to six or seven units.
An analysis of the consultation found 2,139 respondents commented about having treatment closer to home - and some thought this should apply to surgery too.
The report said: "The majority of the comments made (1,195) related to travel issues.
"Some said that it is negligent to force a patient to travel long distances for treatment.
"Linked to this, respondents said that families need to be close by to visit the patient easily, to aid the child's recovery or continue life as normally as possible."
And many respondents from London suggested that the three hospitals in the capital currently providing children's heart surgery should continue to do so.
'Risks to patients'
The report said: "Around half of the comments made here related to the specific hospitals themselves and their merits, particularly Royal Brompton.
"Most people stated their support for the hospital and were positive about the care and service provided.
"Some also expressed concerns about the risks posed to patients and the negative impact on other services at the hospital if the children's heart surgery were to cease."
The Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts will now consider the responses, and also examine travel patterns and hospitals' capacity before making the final decision.
Its chairman, Sir Neil McKay, said: "The scale of the response confirms to me the importance of ensuring excellent NHS care for children with congenital heart disease.
"Implementing these new standards will improve the quality of care for children across England."
The Children's Heart Federation (CHF) charity, which helps children with heart disease and their families, said it supported the principle of having fewer, larger centres.
Chief Executive, Anne Keatley-Clarke, said: "To achieve the 24/7 care that 94% of people want, you have to bring surgeons together into larger teams at fewer centres.
"Parents want waiting times to be short and cancelled operations to be a thing of the past, so the NHS needs to push ahead with implementing the Safe and Sustainable standards."