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Health News

Royal Brompton hospital consultation 'unlawful'


A leading hospital has won its High Court battle over a consultation exercise which led to proposals to close down its children's heart surgery unit.

The Royal Brompton in Chelsea, west London, said its future is in doubt if the closure - an act it describes as "bureaucratic vandalism" - goes ahead.

Today a judge ruled that the consultation exercise was "unlawful and must therefore be quashed".

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

The Royal Brompton has an international reputation for specialist paediatric services.

Hospital trust chief executive Bob Bell said after today's ruling: "We are delighted. This is a vindication for the patients we care for and for their families and our supporters."

Adding that he had "an element of regret" that court action had been necessary, he said: "We tried to avoid this, but we will not give up in our advocacy for being a centre of excellence."

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

Sir Neil McKay, chair of the JCPCT, said: "I am disappointed that the judge decided to quash the consultation on an obscure technical point that had no material bearing on the JCPCT's choice of consultation options.

"We respectfully intend to appeal the judge's decision based on his misunderstanding of the review process."

Lawyers for the Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust argued that the "Safe and Sustainable" consultation into the future of children's heart surgery in England was "shot through with legal error".

The consultation had led to a proposal to reduce the number of treatment centres in London from three to two.

The recommended options published in March favoured keeping the Evelina Hospital, which is part of Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital Trust, and Great Ormond Street. None of the options included the Royal Brompton.

Alan Maclean QC, representing the trust, said the Royal Brompton was one of two centres in the country which already met the criterion for achieving the stated goal of the review.

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

Mr Justice Owen, sitting at the High Court in London, rejected most of the trust's complaints.

But he allowed its application for judicial review on the basis that the JCPCT had failed to meet the trust's legitimate expectation that the Royal Brompton's capacity for research and innovation would be assessed fairly.

This failure had "seriously distorted" the consultation process.

The judge said the unfairness was "of such a magnitude as to lead to the conclusion that the process went radically wrong".