Judge derails plans to close children's heart surgery unit, slamming the 'secretive' approach of NHS bosses
Decision to close centre at Leeds General Infirmary ruled as 'legally flawed'Mrs Justice Davies agreed that decision-making process was unfair
Details of how an expert panel marked individual hospitals were kept secretBut decision does not mean hospital is definitely safe, warn campaigners

By
Chris Brooke

PUBLISHED:

15:42 GMT, 7 March 2013

|

UPDATED:

15:47 GMT, 7 March 2013

Mrs Justice Davies said plans to close a children's heart surgery at Leeds General Infirmary were unfair and legally flawed

Mrs Justice Davies said plans to close a children's heart surgery at Leeds General Infirmary were unfair and legally flawed

A High Court judge has derailed controversial plans to close a children’s heart surgery unit because of the ‘secretive’ approach of NHS chiefs.

There were scenes of jubilation after the decision to close the centre at Leeds General ruled Infirmary as part of a national reorganisation was unfair and legally flawed.

The NHS announced last July it wanted to close three units and keep seven open, with patients in Yorkshire being forced to travel to Liverpool or Newcastle for treatment.

But Mrs Justice Davies backed claims by the Save Our Surgery (SOS) group that the consultation process to decide which units should be axed was unfair because details of how a panel of experts marked individual hospitals were kept secret.

The judge will announce crucial decisions about what happens next at a further court hearing later this month.

Sharon Cheng from SOS said despite winning the case ‘on every point’, the ruling did not necessarily mean the Leeds heart unit was saved.

There is huge support for keeping child heart surgery in the region and nearly 600,000 people signed a petition against closure of the unit.

‘The campaign started small, like David and Goliath, then grew and grew out of all proportions,’ she said.

The group spokeswoman slammed the review process conducted by the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts (JCPCT) as being ‘secretive.’

Miss Cheng said: ‘It was important the process had transparency and openness and they failed in our opinion.

Winning this case in the High Court proves once and for all that the supposed consultation was a rubber-stamping exercise conducted with an outcome in mind, with clinicians, MPs and patients fooled into feeling they had influence.

‘This action was taken by parents and
clinicians who simply could not stand by and watch a clear injustice
being done.’ During the national review each hospital unit was visited
by a panel of experts and given a performance mark.

The panel produced ‘sub-scores’ which
gave marks for a wide range of criteria, but these weren’t disclosed to
the hospital units lobbying to stay open until after the final decision
was made.

Philip
Havers, QC, for SOS, successfully argued the centres were ‘shooting in
the dark’ during the consultation process as they had no idea of how
they were being viewed.

Health bosses wanted to close the unit at Leeds General Infirmary (pictured), meaning patients in Yorkshire would be forced to travel to Liverpool or Newcastle for treatment

Health bosses wanted to close the unit at Leeds General Infirmary (pictured), meaning patients in Yorkshire would be forced to travel to Liverpool or Newcastle for treatment

The JCPCT also ended up ‘assessing in the dark’ as it refused to look at the sub-scores when making its decision and only took account of the total mark.

Mrs Justice Davies said in her ruling: ‘As the scores were relevant to the assessment, the breakdown of the scoring should have been disclosed to the centres whether or not the JCPCT proposed to look at it.’ JCPCT chairman Sir Neil McKay said later he hoped the court would not quash the NHS review ‘in its entirety.’

He said: ‘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 setback 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.’

Following a series of reviews over the past decade NHS chiefs decided to concentrate the specialist services in fewer but larger centres that would give a higher quality of care for child heart patients.

The sites currently chosen to stay open are at Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle, Southampton and two London centres.

Facing closure are the Leeds site and units at Leicester’s Glenfield Hospital and London’s Royal Brompton.

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, yesterday welcomed the ruling and said earmarking the Leeds unit for closure was ‘utterly unjustified and unethical.’ He said the evidence must be looked at properly: ‘We cannot afford to rush and make a bodge job of this.’