New hope for Leeds heart unit campaigners

Scales of Justice
Scales of Justice

Campaigners, including Dearne parents who are trying to keep the Leeds children’s heart surgery unit open have won another reprieve in their hard-fought battle.

A High Court judge has quashed the decision of the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts, about choice of children’s heart treatment and the assessment of current heart units.

On March 7, the Hon Mrs Justice Nicola Davies ruled in favour of campaigning group Save Our Surgery (SOS).

She found that the consultation and decision making process used for the JCPCT’s reconfiguration of paediatric cardiac surgery services across England and Wales was flawed, and the assessment of Quality of Services – meant to be at the heart of the issue – was unfair and unlawful.

Now, the National Commissioning Board (the new body replacing the JCPCT) must re-consider the process and question the quality scores and how they were arrived at, including on issues of travel.

The judge has asked that they then decide upon the future centres on those new grounds.

At today’s court hearing Save Our Surgery (SOS) suggested that the only appropriate outcome of the ruling is for the High Court to quash the July 4 decision on which hospitals retain children’s heart surgery services, that included the removal of services from Leeds General Infirmary.

SOS has asked that the JCPCT reconsiders such factors as: the reliability of data used to assess hospitals in the original review process, whether there are material differences in quality between closely ranked centres and, if so, what those are, and the importance of other factors, including travel and access for patients, co-location of vital services, strength of cardiac care network and financial viability.

Sharon Cheng of Save Our Surgery said: “We are extremely pleased and relieved that the unfair and flawed decision to stop surgery in Yorkshire and the Humber has been quashed. Today’s judgement vindicates our decision to pursue this case through the courts. We brought this case on behalf of the families and patients of our region whose genuine concerns about the review had been consistently ignored by the NHS.

“The first line of the NHS constitution states ‘the NHS belongs to the people’. We now call on the decision makers to reflect that by engaging with us to ensure the final outcome is the correct one for children across the country.”

The judge has asked that the IRP continues its independent review and reports back to the Secretary of State by the end of April.

The JCPCT was not granted leave to appeal, with the judge telling them that there were no legal grounds.

Barnsley East MP Michael Dugher said: “I am delighted with the judge’s decision. The Leeds Children’s Heart Unit is accessible to nearly 14 million people within two hours travel time, including 5.5 million people in Yorkshire & the Humber. If the Unit closes, more than 650 families who are helped by specialists in Leeds each year would have to travel to other centres between 60 -100 miles away incurring an unnecessary extra financial burden at an already difficult time in their family life.

“I know from talking to families in Barnsley how important the Children’s Heart Unit at Leeds is. It is time now for the Government to end the uncertainty.

“This is now on desk of the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. He must do the right thing and commit to safeguarding the future of children’s heart services in Yorkshire”.