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Children's heart surgery decision faces judicial review

A charity fighting the removal of children’s heart surgery from Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust intends to mount a judicial review of the decision, it has emerged.

The Children’s Heart Surgery Fund, based in Leeds, has sent a letter of intent revealing its plans to instruct lawyers to launch a legal challenge.

In July the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts took a decision to remove children’s heart surgery from University Hospitals of Leicester Trust, the Royal Brompton Hospital in London and Leeds General Infirmary.

The review involved a detailed assessment of all 11 hospitals in England offering the services. It attracted the largest public response to a consultation ever seen by the NHS with 75,000 comments.

Sir Neil McKay, chairman of the joint committee, said news of the legal challenge was “hugely disappointing”.

He described the action as “very limited” as it hinged on what he said was “a narrow technical aspect” of data the joint committee did not have when it made its decision.

He added: “Legal action will be costly for both sides and deeply regrettable. We will mount a robust defence of the decision making process to ensure these vital changes are implemented as soon as possible.”

James Roxburgh, president of the Society for Cardiothoracic Surgery, said: “Maintaining the status quo was simply not an option. For too long surgical expertise has been spread too thinly across too many hospitals and services need to be better coordinated to deliver expert care closer to where families live.

“It is vital that we now move forward without protracted legal disputes.”

Meanwhile, doctors from the University Hospitals of Leicester have claimed lives will be lost by moving services to Birmingham Children’s Hospital Foundation Trust. They claimed analysis of data produced by the central cardiac audit database pointed to a lack of capacity and ultimately an increase in deaths as a result of the move.

Consultant in congenital cardiology Aidan Bolger, co-author of a report to the Leicester trust board, told HSJ the review decision was based on data from 2006 but that analysis of information up to 2009 showed a worrying rise in demand.

He said Birmingham children’s hospital faced nearly 1,000 cases a year, compared to the 611 cases predicted by the JCPCT review.

Dr Bolger said: “The data the decision was based on is now simply out of date. There is a linear upward trend in demand over the last 10 years and the decision needs to be looked at again.”

He said moving ECMO, or extra corporeal membrane oxygenation, from Leicester, which has the best survival rates in the country, would mean “people will be less likely to survive ECMO than they are now”.

“We are all in the business of providing the best care possible for our patients,” he said. “If we are party to information that suggests the decision that has been made may not deliver that then we have an absolute moral obligation to share that data, this is not sour grapes.”

The decision to remove heart surgery services from Leicester has been referred to the new health secretary Jeremy Hunt by the city’s Health Overview and Scrutiny committee, and is likely to now be subject to an Independent Reconfiguration Panel examination.

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