The children's heart surgery unit of a leading hospital is facing closure because of an act of "bureaucratic vandalism", the High Court was told today.

The accusation was made by a QC for the Royal Brompton in Chelsea, west London, which has an international reputation for specialist paediatric services.

The Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust is seeking judicial review, arguing it is the victim of a "deeply flawed" consultation process "shot through with legal error".

It says closure of the unit will put the viability of the whole hospital at risk.

The consultation was launched by the Joint Committee of the Primary Care Trusts of England as part of a national review aimed at streamlining paediatric congenital cardiac surgery services (PCCS) around the country.

Alan Maclean QC, for the Royal Brompton, said the "Safe and Sustainable" consultation on the future of children's heart surgery in England had led to a proposal to reduce the number of centres in London from three to two.

The recommended options favoured keeping the Evelina Hospital, which was part of Guy's and St Thomas' hospital trust, and Great Ormond Street. None of the options included the Royal Brompton.

Mr Maclean told Mr Justice Owen at London's High Court: "The process has been very deeply flawed in a number of important respects and the upshot is the consultation is unfair and unlawful".

The Royal Brompton was one of two centres in the country which already met the criterion for achieving the stated goal of the review, he said.

But "surprisingly" it was being got rid of "in an act of bureaucratic vandalism that calls for the clearest justification".

The case marks the first time that one NHS organisation has taken a legal case against another NHS organisation.

Teresa Moss, director of the NHS's National Specialised Commissioning Team, said before the start of the four-day hearing: "Safe and Sustainable do not accept the allegations made today by the Royal Brompton.

"We will present our own case later this week when we provide evidence in court demonstrating that the principles and processes of the review are robust.

"The recent public consultation shows there is widespread support for the Safe and Sustainable proposals.

"Independent experts have also challenged the allegations from the hospital."

Ms Moss said: "Many people will quite frankly find it astonishing that taxpayers' money is being used so inappropriately at a time of financial austerity in the health service."

Mr Maclean said in court the suggestion that it was "not cricket" and a waste of public money to bring the case did not mean the Trust's joint committee was not susceptible to judicial review.

Bob Bell, the Royal Brompton's chief executive, said before the hearing: "Our decision to take legal action has been taken with deep regret.

"But the gravity of the consequences for patients of this deeply flawed consultation process left us no other option."

The hearing continues tomorrow.

Source: PA