Lawyers representing the Save Corby Urgent Care Centre group have spoken out in praise of the courage of local campaigners that emerged victorious in the high court this week.
Barrister Sarah Sackman, of Francis Taylor Building Chambers, and solicitor Rowan Smith of Leigh Day, successfully persuaded a judicial review that health bosses at Corby CCG should have held a proper consultation into the downgrading of the urgent care centre.
Local people who are part of the Save Corby Urgent Care Centre group said that the town was never properly consulted on proposals to remove the centre’s walk-in system. They also said that the impact on vulnerable people had not been properly assessed and that patients had not been properly involved in the decision.
That group was led by Lyn Buckingham, Maria Bryan and other volunteers who gave up hours of their time to compile evidence for the judicial review.
Ms Sackman said: “The campaigners wanted to hold the CCG to account. Lyn was right and won on all grounds.
“It’s a huge thing to do and it takes a lot of courage, organisation and effort to pull together - as well as money and time.
“The CCG kept promising that there’d be a consultation. Lyn had spent hours in good faith engaging in and preparing for that consultation which the CCG then reneged on.”
Ms Sackman added that the judgement could pave the way for people around the country to have a greater say in the way that these decision are made.
She added: “There’s a general argument that people have the right to participate in decisions that affect their lives.
“Parliament has decided people should be involved in that because they’ve an important contribution to make and important things to say.
“Care needs to be designed by the people who are using it.
“When you make a promise you’re going to consult, you keep your promise.
“It’s not just enough to take general soundings of what people want to see.
“When you make decisions of this type - and we know their budgets are tight and health is a complex area - you have to involve people beyond the ideas stage.
“That’s crucial in a community like Corby.
“They (the CCG) hadn’t considered the duty they have to reduce inequalities in access to health care.“
Ms Sackman stressed that this did not mean that Corby Urgent Care Centre would remain an open-access facility forever, just that the original decision to change the access had been quashed, so the CCG would now have to hold a meaningful consultation with people in the town.
Solicitor Rowan Smith, who has worked with the campaign group to put their case together for the past year, said he was delighted with the judge’s decision.
He said: “They’ve been tirelessly campaigning to save the centre. It’s obviously a really valued local service.
“They have done themselves proud in keeping this issue in the forefront of people’s minds.
“We were always cautiously optimistic. The facts were fairly stark: repeated promises by the CCG to consult over a long period of time.
“One of the main contentions at the hearing centred around the workshop that happened in December last year.
“They claimed that the proposals for same day access came out of that workshop.
“Even the papers for that workshop said this was just pre-consultation work.”
In fact, that full consultation never happened. Campaigners said a ‘public conversation’ that happened in successive months was simply a box-ticking exercise.
Mr Smith added: “This doesn’t mean the CCG can never make the changes it is proposing but at least now if they do still want to continue they have to be transparent about it.
“The battle’s won, but not the war.
“The community should be really pleased.”
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.
In his judgment Judge Jarman QC stated: “The assurances given by CCG to the public 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.
“In my judgment there was no good reason for not fulfilling the legitimate expectation of consultation which the CCG had raised.
“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 was in breach of its duty.
“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.”