National Health Executive - Campaigners accused over heart surgery changes

The Children’s Heart Foundation (CHF) has criticised a potential delay to the judicial review of heart unit changes, following rumours that the Save Our Surgery campaign group is planning to “deliberately” halt its challenge to further delay planned changes to children’s heart services.

The Save Our Surgery campaign was set up to oppose the unit closure in Leeds and has applied for a judicial review of that decision.

The Safe and Sustainable review has recommended the closure of three surgical units: in Leeds, Leicestershire and the Royal Brompton in London. A new set of quality standards requires each surgical unit to have four surgeons conducting between 400 and 500 operations per year.

The conclusions have been met with severe opposition in the areas set to lose their units, and campaign groups in each area are fighting for a reversal of the decisions.

Anne Keatley-Clarke, chief executive of CHF said: “Parents have contacted us concerned over suggestions that the Save Our Surgery campaign group have instructed their lawyers to delay their Judicial Review challenge to the proposed improvements and reconfiguration of children’s heart surgery.

“It’s been suggested by some that they are playing politics with people’s services across the whole country. Parents are concerned and worried over the possibility of even more months of delays.

“We are already seeing planning blight in services. There are serious worries over deterioration and the impact this will have to the care on offer. While uncertainty continues, much needed staff are not being recruited, investment in services is not taking place as managers wait to be certain their unit will continue to provide surgery.

“No-one should be using legal challenges in this way, it is almost playing with the future of children and their parents. Of course if people want to use legitimate campaigns and legal challenges they are perfectly entitled to do so, but they should proceed with the legal challenge as they initially planned, not delay it for maximum disruption and delay to this process. In seeking to postpone a challenge until after the Independent Reconfiguration Panel reports they may be hoping to add many more months of hold-ups in a bid to stop these changes completely.

“Put simply, if Save Our Surgery feel they have a strong case, they should surely want it to be heard as soon as possible. I hope they will clarify their position and guarantee that they will not cause such a delay; giving reassurance to parents up and down the country.

“If these challenges are to take place, we hope that they will be conducted as quickly as possible to reduce distress and uncertainty to families and staff. Parents have been waiting for years and years for these improvements and yet again news about even more setbacks will be extremely disappointing and worrying for them”.

Save our Surgery said there are misconceptions in the CHF statement, and told NHE: “Save Our Surgery is asking for a stay of proceedings in our judicial review case against the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts (JCPCT) whereby our legal representatives will request that the action be put on hold until after the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP)’s review is complete at the end of February. This follows the Health Secretary’s decision to put the review process on hold until 28 February 2013 after Leicester’s Joint Health and Overview and Scrutiny Committee referral to the IRP. Save our Surgery had no involvement in this referral.

“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 that the Health Secretary has decided that 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 that 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.

“We have waited ten years for the review of children’s heart surgery services to be completed. We must now make sure that the outcome is right for children and the safest option for patients. We have grave concerns about this process and the recent Care Quality Commission (CQC) findings at Bristol have only added to the evidence that the decisions regarding which units remain open is highly questionable.  We will continue to challenge this decision, whether through government referrals or legal action, until we believe that the right decision has been made for patients and future generations.”

More on the delays to the implementation of the Safe and Sustainable recommendations, including an interview with Anne Keatley-Clarke, in the November/December 2012 edition of NHE. Subscribe




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