Judicial Review granted over suspension to A&E services
TCI Commentary: Paul Parsons
The NHS decision to suspend the accident and emergency service at the Friarage hospital in Northallerton is set to be scrutinised by the courts.
Commenting on early stories about this, we said the effect of temporary closures are never felt more keenly in our communities than when it affects our urgent and emergency care services. So the surprise here isn’t so much that a ‘temporary’ service closure decision is being challenged in court, rather that it doesn’t happen more often.
Patient safety and staff welfare must always come first, but as has been noted before these situations don’t arise overnight and where there’s time to consider contingencies or alternative arrangements, we’d argue there’s time to involve stakeholders.
Openly exploring questions of process in making decisions to suspend or temporarily change services could leave us clearer on the requirements that need to be fulfilled in these important situations.
We know our members and clients will watch the progression of this case with as much interest as we will.
Campaigners battling against the suspension of accident and emergency services at The Friarage hospital in Northallerton say they have been granted permission to challenge the decision in the High Court.
South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust took the step to temporarily suspend A&E services at the hospital and to replace this with an urgent care treatment centre at the end of March.
Trust management were saying it was due to problems with the recruitment of key staff including doctors and anaesthetists. However, The Save Friarage Hospital group launched a legal campaign against the move, arguing that the decision could have a major impact both in the community and also on services at other nearby hospitals. This led campaigners to instruct Irwin Mitchell’s Public Law team to investigate the situation.
At start of April lawyers applied for a judicial review to be held in the High Court into the legality of the suspension of A&E services. Now, following a hearing held in Leeds, the group and their lawyers have been granted permission to continue with their legal battle. A judicial review hearing will take place in late July 2019.
Helen Smith, the public law expert at Irwin Mitchell’s Newcastle office who is representing the Save Friarage Hospital group, said:
“Our clients have long-held concerns regarding the suspension of A&E services at The Friarage and we strongly believe that the process used to come to such conclusions should be reviewed.
There are a host of extremely worrying factors regarding this move, particularly in how it may have a major impact across the region as a whole.
While we appreciate the NHS is facing difficult challenges at present, it is vital that any decisions are always made with the best interests of patients in mind and there is appropriate consultation with the public and other stakeholders.
Our clients does not want be in this position but feel that they have little option because of how they feel the Trust and CCG have made these changes to hospital services without appreciating the full impact.
It is welcome that the judicial review will proceed and we are determined to work with our clients to ensure that their voices are heard on this very serious matter.”
The Save Friarage Hospital Campaign group state that the temporary suspension of A&E service at The Friarage has led to the loss of hospital beds in both the emergency ward and the intensive treatment unit.
It is also concerned the move will have a particular impact on both the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough and the Darlington Memorial Hospital – sites which would often divert patients to The Friarage when they are at capacity.
Holly Wilkinson of the Save Friarage Hospital group added:
“One of the most concerning aspects of this recent move is that it could potentially put lives at risk – and that is simply unacceptable. We have campaigned long and hard on this issue and it is very welcome that our concerns are being treated seriously. The green light for the judicial review is great news and we hope this will all ultimately lead to the decision to suspend A&E services being overturned. This move simply has to be reconsidered.”
South Tees NHS Statement
The judge determined that the only grounds for the review to proceed is to look at whether consultation should have taken place with the public or the local authority prior to the decision on the urgent temporary change and if due consideration had been given to disadvantaged groups.
The judge refused permission for the review to proceed on the grounds of irrationality and that we had failed to conduct sufficient enquiries before taking the decision.
We are involved in constructive dialogue with those bringing the review. We have always stated that it is our intention to ensure that there is a full public consultation to agree on a long term, safe and sustainable future service model for the Friarage Hospital and this is scheduled to begin on September 13.
This article originally appeared on Minister FM
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