Campaigners criticise Horton maternity recruitment after FOI request

Keith Strangwood at The Horton General Hospital, Maternity Unit, in Banbury. NNL-160706-143901009

Keith Strangwood at The Horton General Hospital, Maternity Unit, in Banbury. NNL-160706-143901009

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Claims that hospital bosses have done all in their power to find doctors to staff Banbury’s maternity department were questioned this week after a Freedom of Information (FOI) request revealed doctor shortages were known about last summer but the trust did not advertise until April this year.

At the time the first adverts were being placed, Oxford University Hospitals Trust (OUHT) managers were finalising blueprints to downgrade the Horton.

The OUHT removed consultant-led maternity on October 3, leaving a single midwife with an assistant to deal with ‘low risk’ births.

Managers convinced the trust’s board, commissioners and county councillors that they could not recruit enough trained doctors to keep the unit safe. An Emergency General Meeting of the trust board on July 30 accepted their claims and rubber stamped the October 3 contingency plan.

Diversion of most of Banbury’s 30 births per week to Oxford has involved revamping offices at the JR to create more wards, removing all beds and delivery equipment from the Horton unit and the hire of a portable operating theatre to accommodate the JR’s gynaecology surgery, whose theatre is being used for Caesarean section ops.

Keep the Horton General Campaign group chairman Keith Strangwood said: “This FOI information shows the trust can’t be trusted. Their efforts to recruit have been less than enthusiastic.

“Strangely, the result has been the temporary loss of a service that their ‘early options’ document, clearly shows they want to permanently remove from the Horton from next spring.

“They have pre-empted the required consultation and need to be held to account. I expect the Oxfordshire Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee to do so.”

Mr Strangwood said: “The timing of ads is critical. Which doctors would want to apply for a job in a unit they know faces closure?”

Dr Peter Fisher, also of KTHG said: “Awareness of the shortage of doctors is corroborated by the trust’s own figures published in the papers for the August 31 Trust Board meeting which showed – as we have pointed out many times - that the response to adverts for (doctors) fell off sharply from the beginning of 2015 and some of those offered posts declined them, which should have alerted them to do something different well before April 2016 .”

Minutes in September 2015 for the Community Partnership Network record the trust’s ‘current difficulties surrounding filling posts of the hybrid clinical/academic junior doctor posts’ in the Horton obstetric unit’.

Susan Brown, press spokesman for the trust, said: “We have rolling adverts for the jobs at the Horton and are closing them and interviewing applicants that meet the job specification once a month. We update the website on the last working day of each month to reflect the latest recruitment situation at that point.”

Adverts listed in the FOI start in April. In May the trust announced its options that include permanent removal of maternity, SCBU, children’s ward and other departments from the Horton.

After criticism of its pay offers and length of contracts, the trust improved remuneration packages in August and offered to extend the 12-month contracts.