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Regional heart unit bosses 'confident' service will remain in North-East
BOSSES at the world-renowned Freeman Hospital tonight (Thursday, March 7) said they are confident that child heart surgery will continue to be carried out in the North-East, following a High Court victory by campaigners fighting to keep services in Leeds.
Mrs Justice Nicola Davies, sitting at London's High Court, today upheld a legal challenge mounted by supporters of the heart unit at Leeds General Infirmary, who argued that the way they were assessed was flawed.
The challenge stemmed from a decision last July that paediatric cardiac surgery should be concentrated at fewer, larger sites.
The judge is expected to outline what today's ruling means for the future of the process within weeks.
Sharon Cheng, the spokeswoman for the Leeds-based Save Our Surgery group (SOS) said the group was "extremely pleased and relieved" to have won the case, which "confirms what we have always believed, that the review process and decision to remove children's heart surgery services from Leeds was unlawful."
But tonight bosses at the Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the Freeman, said they "remain confident" that the original decision in favour of the Freeman will eventually be upheld.
The spokesman added that they would not allow delays in the review process to compromise the quality of the service.
Officials said the Tyneside trust had been recognised by the judge as "one of only two children's cardiac pulmonary transplant units in the UK" and among the top five centres to provide this service in the world.
The Freeman Hospital was selected as a child heart surgery centre following assessment by the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts (JCPCT) during "the most extensive consultation ever undertaken by the NHS."
Dr Richard Kirk, a paediatric heart specialist at the Freeman said: "Our work goes on. On the unit at the moment we have got children from Northern Ireland, Scotland, Birmingham and three from Yorkshire as well as local children."
He stressed that the initiative to reduce the number of heart units had come from leading specialists in the field.
"I suppose it is understandable that no unit wants to shut their surgical programme but sometimes one has to take into account the wider good."
JCPCT chairman Sir Neil McKay expressed his disappointment at today's ruling and indicated there may be an appeal once the judge makes her final orders.
Sir Neil said: "The pressing need to reform children's heart services is long overdue and experts have cautioned that further delay in achieving the necessary change would be a major setback in improving outcomes for children with heart disease.
"There is nothing in the court's judgment that supports the claimants accusations that the consultation was a rubber-stamping exercise."
The Prime Minister said NHS decision makers will have to look very carefully at the judge's ruling.
David Cameron added: "I say, as a parent who had a child who spent a lot of time in hospital, you want to know that your local hospital is good but you also want to know wherever you end up having to go you will get the very best quality of care."
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