Health chiefs have been accused of “rubber stamping” a consultation which ended with a decision to close the children’s heart unit in Leeds.
Campaigners fighting to save the unit, which treats people from the Bradford district, claim millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money was wasted on the consultation which they say was conducted with one outcome in mind.
Speaking after the judicial review proceedings in the High Court, at the end of which the judge said a decision would be made by March 7, the Save Our Surgery group said there was never any chance of the Leeds unit being earmarked to stay open.
Sharon Cheng, of Save Our Surgery, said: “The court hearing has underlined what we have always believed, that the supposed consultation was conducted with one outcome in mind – keeping the Newcastle children’s surgery unit open in order to protect a transplant service.
“With protection of their past spending in Newcastle shown to be NHS officials’ number one priority, and their court argument strongly implying that the public consultation would never have made a difference to the outcome, we must ask why they wasted people’s time and millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money – Leeds could never have been selected as one of the units to survive.
"From their comments in court, the consultation appears to have been a rubber stamping exercise, with clinicians, MPs and patients in this region fooled into feeling they had influence.
“Our hope is that our court case and the separate independent review ordered by the Health Secretary will provide those people with a voice and reflect the opinions of the 600,000 who signed the biggest petition in history against Leeds’ closure. We must now wait for the judge’s decision but hope that we will achieve a fair, just and sensible outcome for children, and the best option for future generations.”
In response, Sir Neil McKay, chairman of the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts, said: “Everyone agrees the NHS should expand access to local care and pool surgical expertise in fewer larger centres and we outlined in considerable detail our defence of the process in the High Court.
“We believe the consultation was transparent, fair and lawful.
“We believe that the detailed narrative report produced by the independent expert panel chaired by Professor Sir Ian Kennedy outlined far more effectively the panel’s assessment of each surgical centre including where hospitals were not meeting the standards.”