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Leeds Heart Unit Campaigners Win Legal Challenge.

Heart (Picture 1)

10:53am 7th March 2013
(Updated 2:46pm 7th March 2013)

Campaigners fighting to keep Children's Heart Surgery in North Yorkshire have won their legal challenge.

In the last hour, the Judge has released his ruling calling both the decision and process 'unlawful'

Sharon Cheng from the Save Our Surgery has just issued a statement

In it she says:

 "This judgment in itself is a victory for the people who fought to keep children's heart surgery services in Yorkshire, and to challenge what they knew to be a flawed and unjust process."

We'll find out what the decisions means for the entire NHS Safe and Sustainable Review over the coming weeks.

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu welcomed the news saying:

“It is great news that the High Court today has upheld the legal challenge brought by local campaigners, asking for all the evidence and facts to be considered before a decision is taken to close paediatric heart surgery at Leeds General Infirmary.

“The Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts' review process and decision to remove children's heart surgery services from Leeds was unjust and flawed. It is utterly unjustified and unethical that the Leeds Unit could be earmarked for closure without the full facts being properly considered.

“Earlier this year, I visited the Leeds Children’s Heart Surgery Unit, to see the life-saving work that they are taking on a daily basis. These hardworking NHS staff are doing incredible work.

“The Leeds Unit serves the whole region and has saved the lives of so many across Yorkshire and further afield over the years. This is one of the top performing units in the country and it is the only one with the recognised ‘gold standard’ of having the co-location of all paediatric services that are required.

“I hope that the Independent Review which has been set up to re-examine the provision of heart surgery across the country is carried out properly and makes its decisions based on hard evidence. It is vital that the right decisions are made as this will determine how children with congenital heart disease are treated for decades to come – we cannot afford to rush and make a bodge job of this.

“I would like to express my deep thanks to all those people who gave generously to enable the legal challenge to be mounted in the High Court. Thank you for trusting all the clinicians at the Leeds Children’s Heart Surgery Unit."

York Outer MP Julian Sturdy has welcomed the news saying:

“I am absolutely delighted to hear that the High Court have ruled in favour of the Save Our Surgery campaign and have found the JCPCT’s original decision to be flawed. This is testament to the hard work of families from across Yorkshire who have been campaigning tirelessly to keep the Leeds Unit open.

“It seems clear that the High Court’s decision is in agreement with the campaigners who believe the JCPCT treated the Safe and Sustainable review as a ‘rubber stamping’ process to achieve a predetermined outcome. The ramifications of the Court’s decision are still unknown and there is very clearly a lot of work still to be done in order to keep the Leeds Unit free from closure. However, today’s decision is a fantastic step in the right direction and a vindication for all those who passionately believe that the Leeds Unit should have a future. It’s clearly cause for some celebration.”

Sir Neil McKay CB, Chair of the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts said:

“I am very disappointed with the Court’s decision. The pressing need to reform children’s heart services is long overdue and experts have cautioned that further delay in achieving the necessary change would be a major set back in improving outcomes for children with heart disease.

The judgment focuses on a single matter of process, but the case for the reconfiguration of children’s heart surgical services remains strong. There is a rare consensus on the need for change right across the board – NHS staff, medical royal colleges, professional associations and national charities all support the case for fewer larger surgical centres, new national quality standards and stronger networks of care.

The consultation - which we undertook with an honest and open mind - was the largest carried out by the NHS and respondents were staunch in their support of the need for change. There is nothing in the Court’s judgment that supports the Claimant’s accusations that the consultation was a “rubber stamping” exercise. The judge in fact found that:

                “This was a comprehensive consultation, lasting a matter of months and prompting 77,000 responses. Thought and care was given to the consultation process both as to its content and implementation. When considered necessary, independent work or advice was commissioned; professional groupings provided advice when requested. Those responsible for, and involved in, the setting up and implementation of this process aimed to provide one which was informed, detailed and transparent”.

This case has focused on a narrow technical point relating to whether 450 sub-scores generated by the Kennedy panel should have been available to respondents to consultation. The Joint Committee of PCTs itself chose not to examine the sub-scores as it did not believe that it had either the expertise or the evidence to second-guess the panel’s conclusions. For the same reason the sub-scores would not have assisted respondents to consultation. Respondents were provided swathes of documentary evidence to consider during consultation, including a detailed 155 page narrative report prepared by the panel.

The panel members agreed their scores after a rigorous on site assessment of the surgical units. I believe that most respondents - of whom there were around 77,000 - would have been very surprised had the JCPCT chosen to substitute its own scores for those of the independent panel, which is in essence the foundation of the Claimant’s case.

We do not yet know what the Court will decide in terms of next steps. We are making representations to the Court that it should not quash the decision in its entirety as the Claimant seeks. Once we have the Court’s judgment on this point we will strongly consider the possibility of appeal.

The Claimant wishes for the NHS to abandon its plans for the reconfiguration of children’s heart services against the express wishes of the vast majority of respondents to consultation. I never forget that the purpose of our work is saving lives and improving quality of life for children, and on behalf of the NHS I want to reassure families, patients and clinicians that we remain as determined as ever to reconfigure services for children with congenital heart disease in the interests of better outcomes and a more safe and sustainable service for children and their families”. 

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