Children's heart units fight the threat of closure

Legal advice sought to ascertain whether Lansley can be forced into U-turn

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Indy Lifestyle Online

The government is facing a summer of discontent from NHS staff and patients as the fight against service closures, wage cuts, pension reforms and treatment restrictions intensifies.

Three children's heart surgery units, which were earmarked for closure after an independent review concluded earlier this month, are preparing to fight "tooth and nail" against the controversial decision.

The Independent has learned that at least two of the units, in Leeds and Leicester, are seeking legal advice to ascertain whether they can force a U-turn. The MP for Pudsey, Stuart Andrews, has secured a pre-adjournment Commons debate for tomorrow and health ministers can expect to be lobbied by MPs of all parties over the summer recess. An elected regional health scrutiny committee, representing 5.5 million people in Yorkshire and Humber, is expected to refer the "fundamentally flawed" decision to the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, on the basis that it is not in the best interest of the local population. Mr Lansley has a legal duty to consider the terms of the appeal.

The Safe and Sustainable review, carried out on behalf of the NHS, decided that children's heart surgery in England and Wales would be concentrated at seven centres from 2014 in order to improve the quality and safety of care for patients.

It had been hoped that this model for change would pave the way for clinically driven closures of A&E and maternity units.

NHS cuts will be under debate alongside the long-running restructuring row. In a Commons debate Labour will force a vote today calling on the Prime Minister to honour his pre-election pledge not to cut the NHS budget.

This comes as research suggests the NHS is being destabilised by looming financial crises, with six in 10 hospital trusts reportedly missing their savings targets and the South London Healthcare Trust, London's largest, in the hands of administrators.

The shadow health minister, Andy Burnham, will also point to a 29 per cent increase in delayed hospital discharges since August 2010, costing the NHS £600,000 a day. About 125 treatments and procedures such as IVF and obesity surgery have been restricted or dropped since the election, Labour claims.

The unions will be livid at yesterday's revelation that tens of thousands of doctors and nurses in the south-west could be sacked unless they agree to drastic changes to pay and conditions, in a break from the national agreement. The BMA has already voted for further industrial action if the government refuses to back down on pensions.

Mr Burnham said: "Ministers have lost control of NHS finances and what we are now seeing is an increasingly crude and random approach to reducing costs."

The Department of Health said all service changes must be clinically led, and there was no excuse for delaying treatment unnecessarily.

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