CAMPAIGNERS fighting to keep child heart surgery in Leeds yesterday won a legal challenge to the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts’ (JCPCT) consultation over changes to children’s heart surgery in England and Wales.
The High Court ruled that this consultation was flawed.
The JCPCT has decided child heart surgery should end at Leeds General Infirmary, Leicester’s Glenfield Hospital and London’s Royal Brompton so care could be concentrated at fewer sites, allegedly to improve standards.
Legal action was brought by the Save our Surgery group (SOS) to save operations at the Leeds unit and the ruling could affect other units. The High Court judge backed claims by SOS that the consultation process was unfair and legally flawed.
As part of the NHS review process, each hospital was visited by a panel of experts and given a score based on its performance. SOS told the High Court the JCPCT had produced ‘sub-scores’ measuring the quality of service under various criteria but had not disclosed them to consultees.
In her judgment, Mrs Justice Nicola Davies said: ‘As the scores were relevant to the assessment, the breakdown of the scoring should have been disclosed to the centres whether or not the JCPCT proposed to look at it. If there is a public law duty to make information available to a consultee, disclosure cannot be denied simply because one party does not wish to look at that information.’
The judge said a further court hearing would be held on 27 March to determine what the ‘remedy’ would be following her ruling. This could lead to the whole process being started again, or it could just mean the review team take a fresh look at the decision over Leeds.
Speaking outside the court, Sharon Cheng from SOS said: ‘Winning this case in the High Court proves once and for all that the supposed consultation was a rubber-stamping exercise conducted with an outcome in mind, with clinicians, MPs and patients fooled into feeling they had influence. This action was taken by parents and clinicians who simply could not stand by and watch a clear injustice being done.’
In a statement, JCPCT chairman Sir Neil McKay said he was disappointed at the ruling. He added: ‘We need to understand whether the court will quash the JCPCT’s decision in its entirety, as the claimant seeks, or whether it will impose a less draconian remedy.’ If the plan went ahead, children would have to travel to Newcastle or Liverpool for operations.