“Our voices have finally been heard.”
That was the cry from jubilant campaigners and families after winning their High Court challenge over the closure of the Leeds children’s heart surgery unit.
Judge Mrs Justice Nicola Davies agreed with lawyers for Leeds campaign group Save Our Surgery that full details of an assessment of all heart units should have been revealed before the decision was made.
After her ruling was handed down in London, supporters said it was a vital step to keeping the Leeds General Infirmary unit open.
It was condemned to close in a controversial decision made by NHS heads last year, with sick youngsters from Leeds and Wakefield expected to travel to Newcastle instead.
Later this month the judge will reveal what the next steps will be - but the plans to close the Leeds ward could be quashed. Sharon Cheng, from Save Our Surgery, told the Yorkshire Evening Post:
“We are elated. We are delighted for the Yorkshire parents and for all the people who have backed us. This was unjust and unlawful and we have been listened to.”
The judge ruled that a consultation carried out
before the final decision to close the Leeds unit was unlawful.
The case centred around whether NHS body the Joint Committee of Primary
Care Trusts (JCPCT), which made the final decision to close the Leeds unit, should have revealed the full details of an assessment by experts of all hospitals carrying out children’s heart surgery.
An earlier hearing was told that the overall scores were provided to the decision-makers and the hospitals involved – but not the detail of how the hospitals scored on specific criteria.
Mrs Justice Nicola Davies said in her judgement: “I am satisfied that fairness did require disclosure of the sub-scores to enable Leeds to provide a properly focused and meaningful response.
“The refusal of the JCPCT to a specific request by Leeds for disclosure was, in my view, ill judged.”
Following the judgement, Ms Cheng said they had got over the “first hurdle” and were keen to hear the verdict from a separate Government-ordered review. We have got a few other hurdles to overcome.
“We look forward to hearing what’s going to happen
She said when deciding what action should be taken, she hoped the judge would look at the compromise suggested by Leeds campaigners, which would see both the LGI unit and the Newcastle service remain open.
“Congenital cardiac disease is on the rise and is set to rise by 50 per cent in next 10 years,” she said.
The nationwide review of children’s heart surgery services is designed not to cut costs, but to improve care and outcomes for young patients.
Experts decided having fewer centres carrying out the operations would be safer, because surgeons who do difficult procedures become more skilled at them.
The number of hospitals carrying out children’s heart surgery is set to be cut from 11 to seven - with Leeds excluded.
Those changes have proved to be a controversial and highly emotive - as well as political - issue.
The Prime Minister David Cameron said, during a visit to Keighley, that he could “completely understand” why people felt so strongly.
“People care deeply about their local hospital and having really high quality operations being carried out there and parents of children with heart defects care very deeply that we have the best possible service we could have. I think the only thing we all have to bear in mind as this process continues is that the outcome, clinician led, clinician decided, must be the right one for the patients and the parents.
“We’ve got to make sure in the end these very complicated heart operations with very young children and babies, that children are given the
best possible chance of survival.”
Following the success of the legal challenge brought by Leeds campaign group
Save Our Surgery, judge Mrs Justice Nicola Davies will later this month decide what action should be taken.
Meanwhile a separate review of the moves by the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP), ordered by the Government, is due to report back by the end of March.
Politicians of all parties welcomed the success of the legal challenge. Pudsey MP Stuart Andrew said the decision was a “fantastic victory”.
Greg Mulholland, Lib Dem MP for Leeds North West, said the decision “vindicates” that the review process and the decision was deeply flawed from the start.
Yesterday he called for the JCPCT members to never be allowed to take part in a major health service decision again, following this loss of confidence.
He said: “As a result of the JCPCT’s failure of duty the whole review is now in tatters. [They] have lost the confidence of people and should play no further part in the process and it is time the Secretary of State and the Department of health must now step in.”