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7 March 2013, 10:07
Campaigners in Leeds have won a High Court challenge over proposed changes to children's heart surgery services in England - which casts doubt over the future of services at Newcastle's Freeman Hospital.
Save Our Surgery (SOS), which is trying to stop the closure of the heart unit at Leeds General Infirmary, argued the consultation process leading up to the changes was "unfair and procedurally flawed''.
Mrs Justice Nicola Davies, sitting at London's High Court, ruled that the challenge must succeed - but what the victory means for the future will be decided at a later date.
An SOS statement said:
"This judgment is in itself a victory for the people who fought to keep children's heart surgery services in Yorkshire, and to challenge what they knew to be a flawed and unjust process.''
SOS spokeswoman Sharon Cheng said outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London the ruling did not necessarily mean the Leeds heart unit was saved, and much would depend on what orders the judge decided to make when the matter returns to court later this month.
In a statement, the Newcastle upon Tyne hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said:
"The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust was delighted that the Judge recognised the quality and uniqueness of our Children's heart surgery service, stating that it is "the only unit in the country to provide all cardiac care from conception, through birth, childhood and adulthood".
She recognised that our unit "is one of only two children's cardiac pulmonary transplant units in the UK", "among the top 5 centres in the world, within this field and has an international reputation".
The Trust became involved in the court proceedings to correct inaccurate and derogatory information made in statements filed on behalf of Leeds about Newcastle's service.
The Judge has not made any finding against Newcastle but queried an aspect of the NHS consultation as part of the reconfiguration process. The Judge must decide in the near future whataction, if any, should be taken.
The Children's Heart Unit at Freeman Hospital has fully supported the objectives of the review which are to ensure high quality heart surgery will be provided for all children.
The decision to include Newcastle as one of the seven units in the country was reached following assessment by a panel of national experts during the most extensive consultation ever undertaken by the NHS.
They recognised Newcastle's outstanding service and reputation for innovation which is demonstrated by our world class results.
We are disappointed that the implementation of the review will be further delayed by this litigation. However we remain confident that the original decision will in due course be upheld and the Freeman Hospital will be one of the designated centres providing specialist children's cardiac surgery, for which our performance and very high quality is recognised internationally.
Newcastle Hospitals gives reassurance that our first and foremost consideration will remain the interests of children and their families under our care and we will not allow delays in the review process to compromise the quality of our excellent service."
One possibility is that the judge will order fresh consultations, which could throw plans for the reorganisation of children's heart surgery around the country into delay and disarray.
The legal challenge stems from a decision last July by the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts (JCPCT) that paediatric cardiac surgery should be concentrated at fewer, larger sites to improve standards across the country.
At a recent hearing, JCPCT lawyers argued by the consultation process was fair and not open to legal challenge - but the judge ruled the process fatally flawed. The sites currently chosen to stay open are at Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle, Southampton and two London centres.
Facing closure are the Leeds site and units at Leicester's Glenfield Hospital and London's Royal Brompton.
The Brompton lost an earlier legal challenge to the proposals.