The High Court has today ruled in favour of a healthcare campaigners after she challenged a decision by the local health authorities to close an urgent walk in centre.
Lyn Buckingham, who has lived for many years in Corby and founded the Save Our Urgent Care Action Group, took the legal action against her local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) over its decision to downgrade the local Urgent Care Centre.
The changes proposed by the CCG would have removed the walk-in service, made access by telephone appointment only, and replaced the current same day clinical triage with non-medical telephonists. Clinical bays for observation at the centre would have also been lost.
The High Court today quashed the changes. In reaching his judgment, His Honour Judge Jarman Q.C. agreed with the campaign group that the CCG had unlawfully breached their legitimate expectation to be consulted ahead of the decision to downgrade the centre, and as a result had not adequately involved users of the service in the decision-making process.
The Judge also held that the CCG had failed to have due regard to both: the discriminatory impact of the proposals; and the need to reduce inequalities in respect of the provision of health services.
In his judgment Honour Judge Jarman Q.C. stated:
“In my judgment the assurances given by CCG to the public, as summarised above, that consultation would follow the pre-consultation engagement so as to give the public a say on the proposals shaped by the engagement exercise were plain and unequivocal.” [Para 41]
“In my judgment there was no good reason for not fulfilling the legitimate expectation of consultation which the CCG had raised.” [Para 48]
“The limited opportunity to put questions (rather to provide information or to give views) and the absence of any opportunity to respond to the response did not, in my judgment, amount to the involvement contemplated by the subsection. It follows from that conclusion that CCG were in breach of its duty…” [Para 52]
“The evidence does not establish that in making the Decision there was a focussed awareness by the CCG Governing Body of the need to advance equality of access to health care services for those with protected characteristics, or to reduce inequalities in such access. Although the public-sector equality duty was set out, the duty under section 14T of the 2006 Act, which is not related to protected characteristics, was not. Moreover, the duty to obtain further relevant information, as summarised above was not complied with. It is likely that such information could have been obtained as part of the consultation.” [Para 65]
Rowan Smith from the public law team at Leigh Day, who represented Ms Buckingham, said: “The importance of this judgment cannot be overstated. Against the odds, Corby campaigners have held the CCG to its repeated promises to consult them before significantly downgrading a much-loved local service. The Judge has directed that the CCG ought now to consult.
“This judgment also ensures that, before the CCG makes any other changes to the centre, it must properly consider the impact on vulnerable groups, such as patients with mental health problems, learning difficulties or those with English as a second language.
“The Corby campaign is a positive message to all other groups in the country battling to protect the NHS from budget cuts: keep up the fight. This case would not have been possible without the fundraising support of the local community.”