Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Campaigners claim heart surgery win

The Save Our Surgery campaign is trying to stop the closure of the heart unit at Leeds General Infirmary

Campaigners have won a High Court challenge over proposed changes to children's heart surgery services in England.

Save Our Surgery (SOS), which is trying to stop the closure of the heart unit at Leeds General Infirmary, argued the consultation process leading up to the changes was "unfair and procedurally flawed".

Mrs Justice Nicola Davies, sitting at London's High Court, ruled that the challenge must succeed - but what the victory means for the future will be decided at a later date.

An SOS statement said: "This judgment is in itself 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."

SOS spokeswoman Sharon Cheng said outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London the ruling did not necessarily mean the Leeds heart unit was saved, and much would depend on what orders the judge decided to make when the matter returns to court later this month.

One possibility is that the judge will order fresh consultations, which could throw plans for the reorganisation of children's heart surgery around the country into delay and disarray.

Ms Cheng said: "We have won this case on every point. It doesn't necessarily mean the heart surgery is saved, but fresh reconsideration will have to be given as to what is to happen next and the fight will go on. We knew it was time to fight because of the strength of feeling of families. The campaign started small, like David and Goliath, then grew and grew out of all proportions.

SOS represents a large number of residents in the Leeds area. Nearly 600,000 people signed a petition against closure. Children in the area will have to travel to Newcastle or Liverpool for surgery if the Leeds unit is closed.

The legal challenge stems from a decision last July by the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts (JCPCT) that paediatric cardiac surgery should be concentrated at fewer, larger sites to improve standards across the country.

At a recent hearing, JCPCT lawyers argued by the consultation process was fair and not open to legal challenge - but the judge ruled the process fatally flawed. 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 Brompton lost an earlier legal challenge to the proposals.

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