Child heart surgery review head denies consultation was ‘skewed’

THE man heading a controversial review of children’s heart services has hit back at Yorkshire campaigners fighting to save the Leeds unit.

Sir Neil McKay said he “strongly refutes” claims that a consultation into cutting the number of centres where the highly-skilled surgery takes place has been skewed against Leeds General Infirmary.

And he claimed that despite a High Court Judge ordering the consultation to be quashed this week after a judicial review by London’s Royal Brompton Hospital, there is still “strong support” to press ahead with the changes.

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But one West Yorkshire MP campaigning to save the Leeds unit – which faced closure in three out of four options proposed in the review – accused NHS bosses of being “inflammatory and arrogant” last night and warned they could yet seek their own legal action.

Sir Neil, chairman of the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts (JCPCT) which is carrying out the review, spoke out in a letter in today’s Yorkshire Post amid anger from campaigners in Yorkshire over the handling of the consultation.

Experts say it would be safer if surgery is carried out in fewer centres with greater expertise and proposed four options to introduce this. Three of them involved Leeds losing its surgery, prompting more than 600,000 people to sign a petition opposing such a move.

Campaigners question some of the data used in the review, particularly on population figures and travel times, and also argue that people from the region’s large ethnic minority communities had less chance to take part because literature was initially only available in English.

In his letter Sir Neil said: “I strongly refute claims that the consultation has been ‘skewed against Leeds General Infirmary’ and that we made it difficult for minority groups to take part.

“The review has been transparent and robust and engagement with the minority groups has been extensive.”

He said the joint committee started to consider consultation responses last month and was considering new options put forward by people in this region which included ways of keeping the Leeds unit open – but that this week’s High Court ruling “may now prevent us from considering these views”.

The court rejected most of the Brompton’s arguments but ordered the consultation be quashed because the hospital, which was set to lose its unit, had not been allowed to submit additional evidence on the amount and quality of research it carried out when it realised this was a key factor in making the decision.

Sir Neil said he would appeal against the ruling, which he said was granted on an “obscure technicality”, and admitted that changing health services was “never easy”. A final decision will be made by next spring.

Pudsey MP Stuart Andrew said: “I know with the Royal Brompton judicial review the Judge ruled on a technicality, but he did say the consultation should be quashed.

“It almost seems the language they’re using is that the High Court judge doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

“It’s inflammatory and arrogant to say the least.”

Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves said: “A High Court ruling from earlier this week underlined what we have been arguing: the consultation process is flawed.”

And Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland said: “I’m disappointed but not surprised that the Joint Committee have responded in this way... they’ve been somewhat arrogant throughout this process and have failed to deal with some of the genuine issues and concerns.”