Public consultation on children's heart surgery is not an X-Factor vote

After four months of consultation, the largest ever run by the NHS, there is a clear winner.

More people back Leeds to provide a children's heart surgery unit than Southampton.

So is that it? All settled?

Of course not. This isn't the X-Factor, where the heart unit that gets the largest share of the public vote wins.

Leaving aside the thorny question of whether Leeds managed to get nearly twice as many names on their petition simply by employing professional marketing people, and looking more closely at the results of the review, it appears that among expert opinions Southampton has won 63% support.

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Image caption The future of Southampton General Hospital's children's heart surgery unit is in question

And in medical matters, surely we should we trust the experts?

Concentrating expertise

Well if that was true, there would be no need to run a public consultation at all.

The medical experts could simply sit in a darkened room until they'd decided the best way to reduce 11 centres around England to seven or six, to achieve the desired improvement in standards by concentrating expertise and resources.

The truth is that the only things we can really conclude from these surveys and responses are that people really care about their NHS, local councils will always bat for their local services, and you can get an expert opinion on either side of the argument.

At which point we turn to the politicians.

Surely they'll just jump on whatever bandwagon suits their brand of ulterior motive?

Life and death

Certainly politicians have a problem telling unpalatable things to people who will later decide whether they keep their job.

But in this case we're not talking about taxes, but life and death.

The Safe and Sustainable review of children's heart surgery started 10 years back with the Bristol Hospital scandals. Since then Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital closed down surgery when death rates were high. Getting the right answer here is not optional.

The Secretary of State and opposition spokespeople on health know that politics has to have the final say.

And that will have to balance expert opinions with those of the public.

Worrying though that does sound to those of us made cynical by expenses scandals and broken election promises, there's no other way - it's just too important to leave to anyone else.

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