‘Our voices heard at last’ as heart-unit challenge upheld

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JUBILANT campaigners claimed the voices of the people of Yorkshire have “finally been listened to” after a judge upheld their legal challenge to controversial plans to axe life-saving children’s heart surgery in the region.

The High Court ruling could pave the way to a quashing of the decision to end heart operations for children at Leeds General Infirmary as part of a nationwide reorganisation of hi-tech care.

Jamie Newson-Smith and Hannah Reynard with their daughter Ella in the Leeds children's heart surgery unit

Jamie Newson-Smith and Hannah Reynard with their daughter Ella in the Leeds children's heart surgery unit

Prime Minister David Cameron, on a visit to the region yesterday, urged NHS decision-makers to “look very carefully” at the ruling which was widely welcomed by campaigners who had branded the consultation process “flawed and unjust”. There was reported to be an “absolutely electric” atmosphere on the Leeds heart ward when news of the judgment was received.

The ruling came as a huge blow to NHS chiefs in an increasingly bitter battle over the closure which would leave most youngsters from the region needing heart surgery facing a journey of up to three hours for treatment in Newcastle.

High Court judge Mrs Justice Nicola Davies yesterday agreed with lawyers from campaign group Save Our Surgery that full details of an assessment of all heart units should have been revealed to decision-makers. She will announce the next steps over the reorganisation on March 27 which could lead to a re-run of the entire process.

Sharon Cheng, from Save Our Surgery, said: “We are delighted for the Yorkshire parents and for all the people who have backed us. This was unjust and unlawful and we have finally been listened to.

“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. The campaign started small, like David and Goliath, then grew and grew out of all proportions.”

Mr Cameron said: “It’s an incredibly emotive issue as people care deeply about their local hospital and having really high quality operations being carried out there.

“We need to study the court case outcome very carefully but also remember it’s an NHS process which is clinician led and the decision-makers will have to look very carefully at what has been said.”

Archbishop of York John Sentamu was among those welcoming the decision yesterday, saying: “It is utterly unjustified and unethical that the Leeds unit could be earmarked for closure without the full facts being properly considered.”

Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham said Labour had last year raised concerns over the centres selected which left a huge swathe of the east of England without a service. He urged Ministers to urgently set out a way forward.

“These issues matter greatly to families across Yorkshire and it is essential that the process is seen to be open and fair,” he said.

The judge ruled that a consultation carried out before the final decision to close the Leeds unit was unlawful.

The case centred on whether NHS body the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts (JCPCT), which made the final decision, should have revealed the full details of an assessment by experts of all hospitals carrying out children’s heart surgery.

An earlier hearing was told that the overall scores were provided to the decision-makers and the hospitals involved – but not the detail of how the hospitals scored on specific criteria.

Mrs Justice Nicola Davies said in her judgment: “I am satisfied that fairness did require disclosure of the sub-scores to enable Leeds to provide a properly focused and meaningful response. The refusal of the JCPCT to a specific request by Leeds for disclosure was, in my view, ill judged.”

JCPCT chairman Sir Neil McKay expressed his disappointment.

“The judgment focuses on a single matter of process, but the case for the reconfiguration of children’s heart surgical services remains strong,” he said.

“We are making representations that it should not quash the decision in its entirety as the claimant seeks. Once we have the court’s judgment on this point we will strongly consider the possibility of appeal.”