A JUDGE has ordered an urgent hearing of a new legal challenge to proposals to change the provision of children's heart surgery in England.

The proposals involve stopping operations at three hospitals including Leeds General Infirmary.

Children in the area will instead have to travel to Newcastle's Freeman Hospital or Liverpool's Alder Hey Hospital for surgery.

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Campaign group Save Our Surgery (SOS) is seeking a judicial review to keep children's cardiac surgery at Leeds and argues the consultation process was unfair.

If SOS wins its action, the proposed changes could be affected and this could put a question mark over the future of childrens heart surgery at Newcastle.

The two other units currently facing closure are at Leicesters Glenfield Hospital and Londons Royal Brompton, which lost its own application for judicial review earlier this year.

The Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts (JCPCT), the body which ordered a national review of children's heart surgery, decided care should be concentrated at fewer, larger sites to improve standards and chose units at Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle, Southampton and two London centres.

Last night, SOS lawyers asked Judge Mackie QC, a deputy judge at London's High Court, to delay their court application against the JCPCT proposals in the light of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt's decision last month to order a full review of the JCPCT recommendations by the Independent Review Panel (IRP).

The panel reports at the end of next February.

Philip Havers QC, for SOS, argued Mr Hunt could make a decision based on IRP recommendations which would make the Leeds' legal challenge unnecessary, and save a lot of expense.

Dinah Rose QC, representing the JCPCT, argued the case should come on for hearing as quickly as possible to avoid further delay, which was already damaging childrens heart care services.

She argued the secretary of state had indicated that he wanted the opinion of the High Court on the Leeds case to assist the IRP deliberations.

Judge Mackie dismissed the SOS application for a stay and instead said its challenge should be expedited and heard over two days before February 15, weeks before the IRP reports to Mr Hunt.

Medical royal colleges and national charities have warned that further delay to reform will put children's lives at additional risk.