Judicial Review on ACOs granted: Might there be hope?

The High Court on 26 January granted permission to Professor Stephen Hawking, DFNHS Chair Dr Colin Hutchinson, Professor Allyson Pollock, Professor Sue Richards and Dr Graham Winyard to bring a judicial review against the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Jeremy Hunt, and NHS England to challenge the introduction of accountable care organisations (ACOs) into the NHS.

The legal action was begun on the grounds that without an Act of Parliament the introduction of ACOs would be unlawful, that the principles which require decisions about our NHS to be clear and transparent have been breached, and that there should be proper consultation. Earlier last week the government and NHS England conceded that now there will be a national public consultation on ACOs beginning in the spring

The government and NHS England objected to permission being granted but Mr Justice Walker decided the arguments on the need for primary legislation and on transparency “merit a full hearing” as soon as possible after 14th March 2018.

Claimant, chair of Doctors for the NHS, and former Consultant Eye Surgeon in Halifax and Huddersfield, Dr Colin Hutchinson said:

“These radical changes will eventually affect everybody in England. There needs to be a sound legal basis before 10 year contracts worth billions of pounds are outsourced to these new organisations. We are delighted that the Court has decided that our arguments deserve to be examined in detail.”

Claimant and ex-Cabinet Office civil servant, Professor Sue Richards commented:

“I am delighted that we have been allowed to challenge actions by government and NHS England to bring in this policy without making changes to the law which we say are necessary. This opportunity is an essential mechanism for ensuring public accountability in a democracy under the rule of law.”


ACOs are also currently being considered by the House of Commons Health Select Committee. Jeremy Hunt wrote to the Committee chair Sarah Wollaston MP on 22 January 2018, stating that he was intending to lay regulations to facilitate ACOs in February, but was “considering this in light of the timing of both the Health Select Committee’s inquiry and the Judicial Review which has been brought against ACO policy”. The claimants now expect him not to lay the regulations as intended.

Mr Justice Walker also decided not to cap the costs that the claimants might have to pay the government and NHS England if the judicial review is lost. In view of the large amounts spent and claimed by the government and NHS England in opposing the case the claimants will be considering their next steps.

Further information

The draft ACO contract and associated documents are available here:


Documents relating to the Department of Health’s consultation on the ACO regulations are available here:


A letter to the Guardian from Melvyn Bragg, Richard Eyre, David Lascelles, David Owen, Jonathan Pryce, Ken Loach, Rebecca O’Brien, Paul Laverty, John McCarthy, Alan Bennett and Helena Kennedy in support of the judicial review can be viewed at: www.theguardian.com/society/2017/dec/15/we-support-stephen-hawkings-legal-action-to-save-the-nhs


  • Professor Stephen Hawking CH CBE FRS is the world-renowned cosmologist and a long-time proponent of the NHS.
  • Dr Colin Hutchinson – former Consultant Eye Surgeon in Halifax and Huddersfield and Chair of Doctors for the NHS.
  • Professor Allyson Pollock – public health doctor, Professor of Public Health at Newcastle University, member of Keep Our NHS Public, former chair of the NHS Consultants’ Association, and co-author of the NHS Reinstatement Bill.
  • Professor Sue Richards – former senior civil servant in the Cabinet Office, a Director of the National School of Government and Professor of Public Management at Birmingham University, and co-chair of Keep Our NHS Public.
  • Dr Graham Winyard CBE – former Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Vice President of the Faculty of Public Health, and Medical Director of the NHS in England where he led the development of the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE).


The claimants have been crowdfunding on CrowdJustice, allowing thousands of people across the country to come together to challenge creeping privatisation of the NHS, at: www.crowdjustice.com/case/jr4nhs-round2

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