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Wirral patient stops NHS commissioning decisions being taken in private

Successful judicial review on behalf of cancer patient

Photo: istock

12 August 2011

Richard Stein public law partner at Leigh Day & Co has successfully challenged Wirral PCT’s failure to hold its drug and therapy commissioning meetings in public. Richard was instructed by Pauline Lomas, a local patient, who was challenging a decision to cease commissioning homeopathy for patients on 29 March this year. The decision was made in private by a sub-committee of the PCT, its “Professional Executive Committee” (PEC), and then rubber stamped by the PCT board in April.

Pauline Lomas was diagnosed with malignant breast cancer in 2001. She is certain homeopathy is one of the reasons she is alive today. She uses homeopathy to treat the condition, and also to manage insomnia and the pain she is in. One of the benefits of NHS supported homeopathy is that the treatment is delivered by qualified medical doctors. She would also not be able to afford a similar private service if the PCT were to withdraw funding.

Pauline instructed Leigh Day & Co to challenge the PCT’s decision taken in private to cease commissioning homeopathy. After commencing judicial review proceedings, the PCT withdrew this decision and agreed to reconsult. However, the PCT refused to change its policy on public access to meetings where commissioning decisions are taken. This breached government guidance and would have been a major barrier to Pauline’s successful participation in the subsequent consultation.

Despite the PCT’s initial hardline position, after Leigh Day & Co lodged the claim the PCT conceded this point too and decided to hold the relevant meetings in public.

The action would not have been possible without funding from the Legal Services Commission.

Pauline Lomas said:

“I rely on homeopathy to treat my cancer so I’m very upset and angry that the PCT plans to reconsult and may still withdraw all funding from the homeopathy service. Homeopathy costs the PCT a small amount of money but it brings a huge amount of benefit to those who use it so I think the PCT’s plan is very short-sighted. I’m keen to engage with their proposals, but the PCT’s insistence on holding meetings in private would have made this difficult. It seems wrong for the PCT to take funding decisions that the public are paying for behind closed doors and I’m delighted they have changed their position.”

Richard Stein said:

“There are very good reasons why PCT commissioning decisions should be made in public and not behind closed doors. Commissioning decisions are often very controversial and these services are paid for by the public. This isn’t just a formality. Our client’s case is an example of what can happen when the PCT fails to involve the public and gets its decisions wrong. It is only thanks to her sense of justice and courage that she managed to stop it taking an unlawful decision. This action demonstrates the importance of having properly constituted PCTs and I firmly believe this PCT is less likely to take unlawful decisions following our successful legal action.”

Leigh Day & Co instructed David Lock QC of No5 Chambers to act on behalf of Mrs Lomas in this action.

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