Decommissioning services is going to be a political and legal hot potato in the next few years. We are currently advising on a number of matters where proposed changes or reductions to services are going out to consultation, and it is felt that legal challenge is likely. These are difficult and emotive issues, complicated by the pressure placed on local politicians by their electorates, to challenge any reduction in services in their local area.
Many of you will know that the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts has already fought a lengthy legal battle in relation to the proposed cessation of paediatric heart surgery at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London - eventually winning its case in the Court of Appeal.
Just this morning it was announced that a campaign group has successfully challenged the consultation process that had led to the decision to cease providing these services at Leeds General Infirmary. The precise impact of the decision is not yet clear. Early reports suggest that the court's ruling was based on the JCPCT's failure to disclose some of the scoring that had been attributed to the quality of the services currently being provided.
Although the court has ruled that the consultation exercise did not meet the required standards it has yet to rule on whether the closure decision must be reversed. That decision will be made following a further court hearing on 27 March and could have implications for paediatric heart surgery nationwide.
We will scrutinise the case report as soon as it is available and report on any further guidance it provides as to pitfalls to avoid when consulting on service redesign.