Three Court of Appeal judges have found the JCPCT's process for public consultation to be fair, lawful and proper, and they have dismissed all of the grounds raised by the Royal Brompton Hospital.
The judgment, made on 19th April 2012, will be welcomed by specialist heart doctors and nurses, national children's charities and the families of children with congenital heart disease who have consistently called for an even safer and more sustainable children's heart service in England.
It means that we can now take into account the evidence submitted to us by the many thousands of people and organisations in what was the biggest public consultation ever undertaken by the NHS. It is only right that all of these voices can be heard.
I wish to thank, once again, all those who took part in last year's consultation. Your views are important and will be considered in detail as we conclude our deliberations.
Now that the consultation is no longer quashed, the JCPCT is able to take account of the respondents who called on us to give further consideration to options with three surgical units in London. And we shall do so, as well as considering a number of other new options that were proposed that include the surgical centres in Leeds, Leicester and Southampton amongst others.
The court action has delayed an open and honest process of consultation and has been frustrating to many of us, including Royal Colleges and professional associations who have said that change to children's heart services is long overdue. We can now turn our attention to preparing for a final decision to be made at a meeting in public on 4 July 2012.
There are specific aspects of the judgments by the High Court and Court of Appeal that are worth highlighting:
Alleged bias and impropriety
The Court of Appeal has rejected outright the hurtful accusations made by the Royal Brompton of bias and impropriety by well respected and eminent children's heart doctors who have sat on groups that advise the JCPCT on clinical matters, and who have a relationship with Great Ormond Street Hospital, the Evelina Children's Hospital and Southampton General Hospital. The accusations were personally distressing to the doctors, who advised the JCPCT in good faith and with the utmost objectivity and professionalism.
Impact to other services at the Royal Brompton Hospital
The High Court found that the JCPCT's approach to considering the potential impact to other paediatric services at the Royal Brompton Hospital was proper. In particular, the decision to convene a panel of international experts was found to be an appropriate response to explore the concerns put to us by a number of respondents about paediatric respiratory services. Although the JCPCT has been advised by the expert panel that respiratory services at the Royal Brompton would remain viable, I recognise that respiratory charities and the families of children with respiratory problems remain concerned about the potential impact were children's heart surgery to cease at the Royal Brompton. I welcome the public engagement that is being held on this issue by London Specialised Commissioning Group - in collaboration with relevant charities and hospitals - and I encourage all those with an interest to take part, to inform a report that will be delivered by the SCG to the JCPCT in June.
Process for scoring evidence relating to "innovation and research"
Despite the great emphasis given to this aspect of the process by the Royal Brompton during legal proceedings, the Court of Appeal has found that the JCPCT's process was lawful and proper and that the Royal Brompton was not unfairly treated in any way.
Consultation - not litigation
I welcome the Court of Appeal's recognition that the process of public consultation - rather than costly litigation - is the most appropriate way for public bodies to express their views on proposed changes and I hope that this dissuades NHS bodies from pursuing this unnecessary course of action in the future. In the present case, the Court has found that the consultation process provided ample opportunity for the Royal Brompton Hospital and its supporters to express their views on the JCPCT's preferred options and on the process for developing those options. The JCPCT has already demonstrated how it has properly responded to concerns and criticisms made by respondents during consultation; this has included seeking further advice and clarification from new and existing expert panels, by testing our own assumptions about retrieval arrangements and travel patterns, and by seeking further information from centres and professional associations. We will continue our deliberations with the same open mind and spirit of openness and fairness.
Our final decision - whatever it is - will no doubt prove to be controversial to some, and the implementation phase will present challenges. But we proceed in the knowledge that there is an overwhelming consensus amongst medical experts and national children's charities that Safe and Sustainable will deliver better clinical outcomes and a better quality of life for children and their families across the country."
Sir Neil McKay, Chairman of the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts
For a statement on the judgment from Sir Roger Boyle, former national director for heart disease and stroke, please click here: http://www.specialisedservices.nhs.uk/news/view/94
The judgment can be downloaded in full here: http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Judgments/royal-brompton.pdf