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More delays mean more lives will be lost, say campaigners

Ward 23 at Newcastle's Freeman Hospital Photo: ITV

Campaigners in Newcastle say the decision by a High Court judge to order a review into the decision making process by the NHS will delay a change that is already long overdue

Safe and Sustainable was ordered after the deaths of more than 20 babies at a hospital in Bristol in the late eighties and nineties.

It called for changes to the way children's heart surgery was provided. Creating specialist centres of excellence with more surgeons operating in once place carrying out a minimum of 400 operations a year.

Last year the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts (JCPCT), whose job it was to decide where those centres of excellence would be, reported back.

Newcastle's Freeman Hospital was chosen to be the centre for excellence for the North.

Development work at the Freeman Hospital has now been put on hold while a decision is made Credit: ITV

So why has that decision now been called into question by a High Court judge?

Mrs Justice Nicola Davies accepted pleas from campaigners in Leeds that the procedures used in the decision making were unfair. She also ruled that the panel involved did not measure the 'quality' of various hospitals.

Newcastle's Freeman Hospital Credit: ITV

The main problem is with the way the JCPCT scored each hospital.

Lawyers for the Save our Surgery campaign group argued it was unfair the scoring methods used when measuring each hospital against another were not fully disclosed before the decision was reached.

They said it would have taken only a minor change in the scoring to have a major impact on the result. With just one point standing between Leeds and Newcastle's Freeman on critical 'quality' scores the judge said basic fairness demanded full transparency of the methods used by the JCPCT.

Freeman campaigner Ivan Hollingsworth Credit: ITV
Seb Hollingsworth was born with a congenital heart defect Credit: Ivan Hollingsworth

Ivan Hollingsworth's son Seb is a heart patient at Newcastle's Freeman Hospital. Mr Hollingsworth has campaigned vigorously for the unit there to remain open.

He says today's decision is devastating for the families of heart children all over the country, delaying again changes that are vitally needed.

This can't be about just looking after the kids who live closest to Leeds hospital or the Freeman Hospital. It's about setting it up for all kids so they live. Because delay it as is happening now and there is a real chance that children will die.

– Ivan Hollingsworth

There will be a further hearing at the High Court on March 27 when the judge will decide whether to overturn the original decision, forcing it back to the drawing board.

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