Heart surgery campaigners win High Court battle

Children's Heart Fund's Save Our Surgery logo - to save LGI's children's heart surgery unit
Children's Heart Fund's Save Our Surgery logo - to save LGI's children's heart surgery unit

Campaigners have won the High Court battle against the decision to close the children’s heart surgery unit at Leeds General Infirmary.

The ruling, handed down by the judge this morning (Thursday) found in favour of Save Our Surgery (SOS) - that the process used by decision-makers Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts (JCPCT) was unlawful.

Sharon Cheng, of Save Our Surgery, said: “This judgment finally confirms what we have always believed: that the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts’ review process and decision to remove children’s heart surgery services from Leeds was unlawful.

“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.

“We are extremely pleased and relieved that the High Court has found in our favour.

“This ruling supports our firm belief that patients’ needs should be at the forefront in determining where heart surgery services are located. It also supports our assertion that children’s heart surgery service provision must reflect today’s realities, not those of ten years ago.

“As the culmination of two years’ of worry and campaigning, this will be welcomed by millions of members of the public and clinicians who spoke out to challenge the decision and express grave concerns.”

Sir Neil McKay, JCPCT chairman said he was “very disappointed by 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.”

He added: “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”.

There will be another hearing in three weeks time when the court will decide on the remedy following this decision.

The decision to close Leeds was taken last summer after a review aimed at reducing the numbers of specialist children’s heart surgery centres nationally.

In October, the Secretary of State for Health ordered an independent panel carry out a review into the controversial decision - which is expected to be completed by the end of March.

Commenting on the decision, Calderdale Coun Megan Swift, cabinet member for children’s social care and lead member for children’s services, said: “We have all been outraged about the consultation process. It has seemed from the start that the national review was not listening to the legitimate points and concerns being raised on behalf of the Leeds parents and children.

“Now it would seem that a High Court judge has agreed that the process has been deeply flawed. We will have to wait for the details of the verdict, but I hope this now gives both the national review and the Secretary of State the duty and the opportunity to think again.”

Halifax MP Linda Riordan said: “This is fantastic news and a welcome step in the right direction to saving the unit. I think it’s now time for health bosses to back down, accept they made a mistake and announce that the children’s heart surgery in Leeds will not be axed. The campaigners have done a great job so far. The work will go on until hopefully the unit is saved.”