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Court’s ruling revives heart surgery hopes
HOPES of children’s heart surgery being returned to Oxford were yesterday fuelled by a High Court decision.
A top judge has ruled that a Department of Health review of heart services, which saw Oxford ruled out as a specialist centre, was flawed.
And the group which fought to retain specialist children’s heart surgery at the John Radcliffe Hospital believes the ruling could help bring the specialist services back to Oxford.
Mrs Justice Nicola Davies, sitting in London, ruled the consultation process on planned closures of heart units around the country was “unfair and procedurally flawed.”
The Young Hearts group, representing 150 local families, many with children suffering from heart conditions, says it could open the way to having some children’s surgery returned to Oxford.
And it could save families of sick children having to make a long and costly journeys to Southampton, where specialist operations are now carried out.
The legal challenge to the NHS’s bid to concentrate children’s heart surgery at a small group of super specialist centres was made by the Save Our Surgery group, which wants to stop the closure of the heart unit at Leeds General Infirmary.
But the ruling throws doubt on the NHS’s national drive to cut the number of specialist cardiac units.
Chairman of Young Hearts, Caroline Langridge, said: “We are delighted at the outcome of the judicial review. “We have always maintained that the assessment process was unfair to Oxford. We feel vindicated that a High Court Judge has agreed with our contention that the consultation process was unfair and legally flawed.
“It now opens up the possibility of some heart surgery for children and interventional cardiology being brought back to Oxford.”
The group has been pressing for less complex heart surgery at Oxford, with more complicated operations still undertaken in Southampton.
Ms Langridge said: “For it to come back to Oxford there needs to be the political will and it would require the appointment of another surgeon. In the 21st century it really should be about the NHS bringing care to patients, rather than making parents of poorly children travel two to three hours. The JR is not a second rate hospital.”
She said the group put its case to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel last month, during its visit to Oxford. The panel is set review the decisions on Children's Heart Surgery and make recommendations by March 28.
She said: “They were particularly interested in looking at our proposals for bringing services to the patients on both sites rather than making Oxford families travel to Southampton.”
Children’s heart surgery was suspended in Oxford in 2010, following the deaths of four children. The unit was subsequently cleared of blame but the suspension remained in force when the JR was ruled out of the running to become one of the future specialist ‘super-centres.’ Maria Crocker, of Berinsfield, whose 11-year-old son David underwent heart surgery at Southampton, said: “We were in Southampton for four weeks and very well looked after. The link between Oxford and Southampton seems to be working very well.
“My great fear is that we could end up having to go through the whole thing again, with the ruling kicking off other campaigns. I don’t think there can be any winners with this situation.”
Alison Barnes, spokesman for the Oxford University NHS Hospitals Trust, said: “We will await further clarification about the legal decision but this will not change our partnership with Southampton.
“Oxfordshire children will continue to receive cardiology care in Oxford while surgery and interventional procedures are carried out at Southampton General Hospital.”
Sir Neil McKay, chairman of the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts, said the NHS would “strongly consider the possibility of appeal”.
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN?
THE legal challenge stems from a decision by the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts that paediatric cardiac surgery should be concentrated at fewer, larger sites to improve standards across the country.
The latest court challenge was mounted by campaigners wanting to stop the closure of the heart unit at Leeds General Infirmary.
But the ruling that the consultation process was “unfair and procedurally flawed” has raised doubts about the whole process.
Campaigners now hope the decision not to carry out heart operations on children in Oxford will be reconsidered.
But NHS bosses say they first need to hear what the judge directs should happen next. They will then decide whether to appeal.
- March 2010: Children’s heart surgery services suspended at the JR following the deaths of four children.
- September 2010: An independent inquiry clears hospital
- 2011: Consultation on plans to reduce numbers of specialist centres. Oxford was excluded from any of the options for the future location of services
- 2012: Link between Oxford and Southampton hospitals established, with local children receiving heart surgery in Southampton.
- 2013: High Court rules the review of heart services across the country was flawed.
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