NHS to appeal children’s heart surgery ruling

Leeds General Infirmary, home of the Leeds children's heart surgery unit
Leeds General Infirmary, home of the Leeds children's heart surgery unit

The NHS is to appeal against a High Court ruling over controversial plans to streamline children’s heart surgery services across the country, including the closure of a unit in Leeds.

The move, which is the latest in a long and bitter row over the issue, was condemned as a “disgraceful waste of time and taxpayers’ money” by campaign group Save Our Surgery.

It follows a successful challenge against the suggested closure of the unit at Leeds General Infirmary at London’s High Court last month, when Mrs Justice Nicola Davies declared the decision-making process “legally flawed”.

A spokeswoman for NHS England said it has submitted an application to the Court of Appeal.

The spokeswoman said: “There is broad consensus - among both clinicians and patient groups - that the NHS needs to concentrate the care of children needing these services into fewer, larger specialist centres, as an integral part of children’s heart networks.

“NHS England believes that we must deliver this change as quickly as possible on behalf of children and their families.

“We now have an opportunity to take stock and assess the best way of achieving our objective in the fastest possible time.

“To do this, we need to take account of all the available information, including the recent High Court ruling of 27 March and the report on the issues that is due to be published by the Independent Reconfiguration Panel.

“We have been advised that there are good grounds for appeal and these points are set out in an application that has been submitted to the Court of Appeal.”

Last July the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts (JCPCT) selected seven specialist centres for the future delivery of paediatric cardiac surgery in England.

The controversial decision - if it stands - means the closure of the Leeds unit as well as those at Glenfield Hospital in Leicester and London’s Royal Brompton.

The reconfiguration was the result of 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.

Sharon Cheng of Save Our Surgery said the group was calling on Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to withdraw the appeal.

“NHS England’s move to try and appeal against the outcome of the judicial review is a disgraceful waste of time and taxpayers’ money,” she said.

“The decision to appeal only underlines, once again, NHS England’s willingness to spend money on lawyers’ fees that should be used for patient care.

“Pursuing this appeal serves no benefit to patients. Instead it is about protecting reputations and trying to salvage what is a flawed and thoroughly discredited process.

“This is a cynical move that only delays things further and creates more uncertainty for patients and their families.

“At this point, enough is enough. The Health Secretary can no longer hide behind the case that it is the NHS’s responsibility to make decisions on the future of patient services.

“The judge’s verdict along with the events of the last few weeks have shown clearly that the Safe and Sustainable review was not driven by sound clinical judgment or patients’ interests. Instead it has been driven by vested interests and bias against Leeds.”