Heart unit campaigners told legal challenge must go ahead

CAMPAIGNERS fighting a decision to end child heart surgery at a Leeds unit which treats seriously-ill children from York and North Yorkshire have been told their legal battle must go ahead - despite them wanting to postpone it.

The Save Our Surgery (SOS) group wanted to halt its call for a judicial review into the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trust's decision to concentrate care at fewer sites, meaning the end of operation at Leeds General Infirmary.

That will leave parents of youngsters in York and North Yorkshire who need vital surgery facing a much longer journey to Newcastle. SOS applied for a judicial review into the committee's decision in October, but its lawyers asked a High Court judge to delay this application after Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt confirmed a full review of the recommendations would be staged by the Independent Review Panel (IRP).

However, Judge Mackie QC dismissed the application for a suspension of the judicial review and said the challenge should be expedited and heard over two days before February 15, before the IRP reports to Mr Hunt.

Sir Neil McKay, who chaired the panel which made the heart surgery decision, said SOS's request to delay its legal bid was "strange" and it would have "significantly delayed long overdue improvements to children's heart services for months". He said the group's "delaying tactics have failed".

SOS member Sharon Cheng said the group still felt the High Court decision was "a positive step" which gave it a timescale, and said pausing their legal action would have had "no significant impact" on the implementation of the changes to children's heart surgery, if they go ahead.

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