A health authority has stopped the transfer of specialist children's surgery between two London hospitals following a threat of legal action.

Merton, Sutton and Wandsworth HA decided last week to 'defer' the transfer of paediatric neurosurgery from Atkinson Morley Hospital to King's College Hospital just four weeks before the move was due to take place.

Richard Stein, a solicitor acting for the parent of a patient of Atkinson Morley, said the move came after he had threatened the HA with legal action for not consulting about the transfer. The HA had told the Journal it had not received a letter about legal action.

Atkinson Morley neurosurgeon Henry Marsh, who has also been campaigning to stop the transfer, told the Journal the HA had hoped to 'push the move through' and had been 'totally out of touch' with the views of patients and clinicians.

He said patients were 'extremely angry' about losing an 'excellent, child- friendly service' while clinicians were concerned that a catchment area of 6 million to 7 million people was too large for a single specialist centre to cope with.

'This has been bungled completely,' said Mr Marsh, who also accused King's Healthcare trust of 'empire building'.

But he added: 'I see it as an opportunity. The problem is to strike a balance between the benefits and risks of centralisation.'

King's has spent pounds500,000 on new facilities and recruited nursing and support staff for the new unit. King's spokesperson Nick Samuels said: 'We are ready and waiting to launch this new service on 1 April and it is unfortunate that a decision taken 12 months ago has run into this hitch.'

In a statement, HA chief executive Sue Gallagher said the decision to defer the move had been taken 'in the light of concerns expressed by parents and others since January'. A project team will now be set up to 'review the processes involved in making the decision to transfer these services' and advise on 'whether consultation should be pursued and what form it should take'.

The original transfer decision was taken by a consortium of South Thames HA chief executives more than a year ago. At the end of last month, MSW HA was still arguing it did not need to undertake statutory consultation because the changes did not amount to 'a substantial change of service'.

The original review said services could move from Atkinson Morley, which is scheduled to close, to nearby St George's Hospital, but not until after the turn of the century.

Lesley Stuart, chief officer of Wandsworth CHC, said that unless 'good clinical reasons' could be put forward for an immediate move to King's, the decision to favour it over St George's should be reconsidered.