A leading hospital has won permission to bring a High Court challenge over a "deeply flawed" consultation process it says has led to its children's heart surgery unit facing closure.
The Royal Brompton, which has the largest specialist heart and lung centre in the UK, has been granted permission to seek a judicial review.
Mr Justice Burnett, sitting in London, said he had concluded "with some hesitation" that the foundation trust which runs the hospital in Chelsea, west London, had "an arguable case" that should go to a full hearing.
The Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust says closure of the unit would put the viability of the whole hospital at risk.
Its challenge is against the consultation process launched by the Joint Committee of the Primary Care Trusts of England as part of a national review aimed at streamlining paediatric congenital cardiac surgery services (PCCS) around the country.
It is believed this is the first legal challenge of its kind to be brought by one NHS body against another. The judge directed that the full hearing should take place over three days in September. Royal Brompton supporters believe the hospital is the victim of a strategy to ensure that London "takes its share of the pain" over PCCS centre closures around the country.
Bob Bell, chief executive of the Royal Brompton Trust, said: "This is extremely good news, first and foremost for patients.
"We have always supported the principle that all babies and children who undergo heart surgery deserve the best possible care, but decisions about the future of such vital services have to be made on the basis of sound, objective evidence, and the decision-making process must, of course, be entirely transparent.
"These conditions were not met by those responsible for this review, and it is with regret that we find ourselves having to take legal action to ensure that the grave inadequacies of their approach are heard in a court of law.
"While we are pleased that Mr Justice Burnett has granted permission for a full judicial review to take place, it is a great shame that the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts did not listen to our concerns in February. Had they agreed to meet us then to discuss the flaws we had discovered, we would undoubtedly not be in this position today."