A decision to change the provision of children’s heart surgery across England has come under fresh legal challenge.
A High Court judge is being asked to rule that the consultation process which led to the changes, including proposals to close the heart unit at Leeds General Infirmary, was “procedurally flawed”.
Campaign group Save Our Surgery (SOS), which represents a large number of residents in the Leeds and York area, said an unfair consultation process left consultees “shooting in the dark” and should be rerun.
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, meaning children in the Leeds and York area would have to travel to Newcastle or Liverpool for surgery.
If SOS wins its action there may have to be a rethink on delivering paediatric cardiac surgery nationwide.
JCPCT lawyers said the consultation process was fair and all relevant considerations were properly taken into account when it took its decision.
The chosen sites are at Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle, Southampton and two London centres.
The Leeds unit faces closure along with Leicester’s Glenfield Hospital and London's Royal Brompton. The Brompton has already lost its own legal challenge to the proposals.
Philip Havers QC, appearing for SOS, said yesterday that nearly 600,000 people had signed a petition against the Leeds closure.
He told Mrs Justice Nicola Davies, sitting at London’s High Court, the consultation process was unfair because the JCPCT denied consultees the chance to question how the quality of their services had been assessed.
Before yesterday’s hearing, which was expected to last two days, Sharon Cheng, from SOS, said: “At the end of the day, this is about protecting the lives of children and this is why we believe that the challenges to NHS officials should be heard.”
Among the York parents who have joined the campaign to retain heart surgery at Leeds is Myriam Barker, whose five-year-old daughter Margaux had open heart surgery at LGI which saved her life after she was diagnosed with a condition called an atrial septal defect.
Simon Mallett, from York, has also called for the NHS decision to be rethought after his daughter Emma's treatment at LGI saw her survive a serious defect of the aorta as a six-year-old.
Tracey and Rob Oliver, from Clifton, whose son Alfie died last July, just before his fourth birthday, after a brave battle against serious heart and lung problems, have previously said journey times should be the main factor in any decision.
Alfie underwent emergency heart surgery at LGI shortly after being born, and his parents later said he would not have survived a journey to Newcastle for treatment.