A NEW legal challenge begins today (Monday, February 11) over proposals to change the provision of children's heart surgery across England.
The controversial plans involve stopping operations at three hospitals, including Leeds General Infirmary.
Children in the area will instead have to travel to the Freeman Hospital, in Newcastle, or Liverpool's Alder Hay 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 children's heart surgery in Newcastle.
The two other units currently facing closure are at Glenfield Hospital, in Leicester and London's Royal Brompton, which lost its own application for a judicial review last year.
The Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts (JCPCT) 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.
But opposition from patients in other parts of the country led to a second review of services by the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP), which advises the NHS.
That ongoing review – as well as this legal challenge – is fuelling uncertainty at the Freeman Hospital, where staff had thought the battle had been won.
Sharon Cheng, from SOS, said: “Taking legal action has always been our last resort option, pursued only after all other appeals to review the decision were rejected by the JCPCT.
“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.
The former national clinical director for heart disease and stroke, Sir Roger Boyle, who was one of the experts advising the review, says the NHS made the right decision and that Leeds General Infirmary would continue to play a vital role providing cardiology services to children.
In 2011, more than 600,000 people from across Yorkshire and Lincolnshire signed a petition supporting the children's heart unit at Leeds General Infirmary.
Medical royal colleges and national charities have warned that further delay to reform will put children's lives at additional risk.
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