Child heart surgery campaigners suspend legal battle

CAMPAIGNERS fighting to reverse controversial plans to end child heart surgery at a Leeds unit which treats seriously-ill children from York and North Yorkshire have put legal proceedings on hold.

The NHS recommended in July that surgery should stop at Leeds General Infirmary so paediatric heart services could be “streamlined” and concentrated at several larger sites.

But this would mean young patients from York having to make a longer journey to the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle instead, and parents claim it could put their children's lives at risk.

The plans drew widespread fury and led to a mass demonstration in Leeds attended by parents from North Yorkshire, while 600,000 people signed a petition opposing the changes. The Save Our Surgery (SOS) group subsequently filed for permission for a judicial review of the decision which was made by the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts.

However, following confirmation last month that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has ordered a review of the committee’s decision, which will be carried out by the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP), the campaigners have suspended their legal action until February pending the results of the review.

Had the judicial review gone ahead, the IRP’s own review would have had to be postponed. The panel has been asked to report its findings by February 28.

In a statement posted on its Facebook page, SOS said: “Save Our Surgery is asking the court to wait until the Health Secretary’s decision has been made, as it is hoped the IRP will deal with the points raised by the judicial review challenge.

“This is the appropriate and right action to take in light of these circumstances and the fact the Health Secretary has decided the children’s heart surgery provision review process needs to be re-examined. We have always made it clear that seeking a judicial review was our last resort option and we would rather avoid court action and the costs associated with it if we can.

“At the time we initiated legal proceedings, the IRP referral had not taken place. Now that it has, we need to see what the panel decides before proceeding.”

The statement continued: “We have waited ten years for the review of children’s heart surgery services to be completed and we must now make sure the outcome is right for children and the safest option for patients.

“We have grave concerns about this process. We will continue to challenge this decision, whether through Government referrals or legal action, until we believe the right decision has been made for patients and future generations.”

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