Judge quashes decision to close children’s heart surgery in Leeds

Leeds General Infirmary
Leeds General Infirmary

A High Court judge has quashed the decision to close the children’s heart unit at Leeds General Infirmary.

Mrs Justice Nicola Davies, sitting at London’s High Court, acted today after recently ruling that the consultation process was legally flawed in relation to the decision that heart surgery should stop at hospitals in Leeds, Leicester and London.

The judge said aspects of the Leeds consultations, including a failure to make relevant information available to consultees, was “ill judged”.

But she stressed she was only quashing “one part” of the JCPCT decision so that there could be “re-consultation and reconsideration” over the Leeds closure.

The judge emphasised that she was not ordering that the whole consultation process had to return to the start.

Her decision was a qualified victory for Save Our Surgery (SOS), which represents some 600,000 residents in the Leeds area fighting to keep their unit open.

The group challenged last July’s decision of the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts (JCPCT) to select seven specialist centres for the future delivery of paediatric cardiac surgery in England.

Leeds is one of three units facing closure in the Safe and Sustainable NHS review, which was triggered by the Bristol heart scandal in the 1990s in which 35 babies died and dozens more were left brain-damaged.

The aim of the review is to provide fewer but more efficient units round the country.

After the ruling SOS spokeswoman Sharon Cheng said: “We are thrilled that the unfair and flawed decision to stop surgery in Yorkshire & the Humber has been quashed.

“Today’s judgment vindicates our decison to pursue this case throught the courts.

“We brought this case on behalf of the families and patients of our region, whose genuine concerns about the review had been ignored by the NHS.

“The first line of the NHS constitution states ‘The NHS belongs to the people’ and we now call on the decison makers to reflect that by engaging with us to ensure the final outcome is the correct one for children across the country.”

The judge ruled that both the Leeds consultations and the subsequent decision-making process were flawed.

She described how the Kennedy Panel, a group of experts set up to advise the JCPCT, had produced “sub-scores” measuring the quality of service at each centre according to various criteria.

But the JCPCT chose only to look at the panel’s total scores, and did not take into account the sub-scores. It also did not disclose them to consultees until the consultation process was over.

In her judgment, the judge said “fairness required” disclosure of the sub-scores to enable Leeds to provide “a properly focused and meaningful response”.

The refusal by the JCPCT of a specific request for disclosure was “ill-judged”.

The judge also ruled that the sub-scores were “a material consideration” that the JCPCT itself should have taken into account, but failed to do so.