THE new model of children’s heart surgery – which will affect where Oxfordshire children receive treatment – is set to start swinging into action next month.

It marks the beginning of the final stages in a two-year process which has been fraught with controversy, campaigns and battles to save local units – including Oxford – across the country.

But Oxfordshire campaigners say major questions remain unanswered.

The Government ordered the Safe and Sustainable review in 2010 after announcing there should be fewer, larger centres carrying out heart surgery on children.

Its vision saw clusters of hospitals working together as networks, with one main ‘super centre’ carrying out heart surgery supported by a number of cardiology units where all other treatments can be carried out.

After this was given the go ahead in July, seven networks will have to be established by 2013.

Children’s heart surgery at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital had already been stopped in 2010 after four babies died, but a link between services in Oxfordshire and surgeons at Southampton General Hospital was set up.

All Oxfordshire children requiring heart surgery will be sent to Southampton General Hospital, and be supported at the John Radcliffe.

Charity Young Hearts fought hard to keep Southampton in the running to be included in the network.

Caroline Langridge, chair of the Young Heart’s sub-committee, said: “There are so many issues which have been left up in the air.

“For example emergency surgery does not appear to have been considered.

“Children who need emergency surgery in Oxford will need to be taken to Southampton. Some of these cases cannot be moved.

“And the costs for parents whose child is in Southampton – who is going to bear those?

“We hope that any day now Young Hearts will receive a formal invitation to become part of one of the working groups which will help feed into the final detail.”

Next month special advisory groups will be set up comprising expert doctors, nurses and national charities and working groups will be held with the local charities to address any outstanding concerns.

All of the hospitals will have to meet special quality standards — 160 in the case of the units carrying out surgery.

In October there will be then be a national summit for the 11 hospitals that were subject to the review, professional associations and NHS commissioners.

Prof Deirdre Kelly, chairman of the Implementation Advisory Group, said: “In the next two years the NHS will be expanding heart services for children, developing robust networks and setting new care standards, ensuring that they meet the needs of families and children.

“Implementing the decision on the future of children’s heart services is a top priority and we need the work to start now so that children can benefit during 2014.”