Heart Service Campaigners Relieved

Campaigners who fought a long and bitter battle against the decision to shut children's heart surgery units in their regions have expressed "sheer relief" at the Health Secretary's decision to suspend the closures.

Activists in Leeds rallied huge support for their cause after they argued that patients in Yorkshire would be forced to travel to Liverpool or Newcastle for treatment, a 150 or 200-mile round trip respectively.

Nearly 600,000 people in the region signed a petition against closure of the unit at Leeds General Infirmary (LGI), organised by the group Save Our Surgery (SOS).

The campaign group took its case to the High Court, arguing that the consultation process leading to the changes was ''unfair and procedurally flawed''.

Plans to close the unit were derailed when Mrs Justice Nicola Davies ruled in favour of SOS, saying that aspects of the process were ''ill-judged''.

Today Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt suspended plans to close the units at LGI, the Royal Brompton in Chelsea, west London, and Glenfield Hospital in Leicester, and ordered NHS England to withdraw its appeal against the judicial review.

Lois Brown, an SOS director, said: "It's a big relief to start with, that we've been listened to and the IRP has given a transparent and fair review into this and basically said what we've been saying all along.

"We feel vindicated.

"As a gut reaction, we feel we should be apologised to for the amount of money and the time that has been wasted.

"We've had to fight this to the nth degree and spent a lot of money going to court just to get to this point.

"But, putting that aside, it's a great step forward for us as the unit and we're going to have a fair hearing and an independent hearing going forward."

Mrs Brown's daughter Amelie, five, has had three lots of surgery at the unit, and has more to come.

"This is a great day for us. We've worked really hard to get to this point. The families, the staff, everybody's worked really hard together to win this fight," she said.

Mrs Brown, from Skipton in North Yorkshire, was speaking on the ward at LGI after watching Mr Hunt's statement.

Families and clinicians crowded round a mobile phone to watch the Health Secretary and it was "just sheer relief" when he made the announcement, she said.

Another parent, Lisa Rushworth from York, said: "I think it gives Leeds now a chance to at least found their corner on more statistics and actual facts and what's going on in the hospital, as opposed to maybe a bit more politics that's been involved."

Her son Jack, 11, said: "They've looked after me really well."

During the review process the Royal Brompton also launched a legal challenge over the consultation process. The hospital, the largest specialist heart and lung centre in the UK, argued that the process was unlawful.

It won a High Court action against the process in November 2011 - the first time one NHS organisation has taken legal action against another.

But the ruling was overturned by the Court of Appeal in April last year.

A spokesman for Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust said: "Patients and their families will be delighted with this news and it will go some way towards restoring their faith in the NHS.

"They have never been able to understand how one of the best performing and largest units in the country was destined for closure, especially when statistics showed that the population in London and the South East was growing much faster than had previously been thought, and demand for children's heart surgery was increasing.

"The tragedy, of course, is that so many families have been caused a great deal of distress by the flawed review of children's heart surgery. We owe them a great debt of gratitude for their strong support over the past three years and hope they will receive an apology from those responsible for the Safe and Sustainable process.

"Had the review been undertaken in a genuinely open and transparent way, and had the decision on which centres to close not been taken many months before the sham of a public consultation took place, a very different decision would have been reached last July."

In October, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt ordered the review into the decision to stop surgery at the three units following pressure from councillors in Lincolnshire and Leicestershire about the closure of the unit in Glenfield Hospital.

He commissioned the Independent Reconfiguration Panel to look at the review process.

The IRP later received submissions from health officials in Leeds and London.

Aidan Bolger, lead cardiologist at East Midlands Congenital Heart Centre at Glenfield, welcomed the decision.

"The review was supposed to create a national network of surgical centres which were safe and sustainable. Now we, along with our colleagues in the other trusts and NHS England, will work together to make that a reality using the right evidence, common sense and always with what's best for patients at the forefront of our minds," he said.