Health bosses refuse to give details of GPs’ vote on Horton downgrading

The Horton General Hospital, Maternity Unit, in Banbury. NNL-160706-143625009

Oxfordshire health bosses have refused to divulge how Banbury area GPs voted over the permanent closure of the Horton’s consultant-led maternity unit.

The Banbury Guardian asked Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (OCCG), under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, for a full breakdown of how surgeries voted in an email ‘referendum’ on making the temporary removal of obstetrics permanent.

Refusing, the CCG said: “OCCG recognises there is a public interest in the disclosure of information which facilitates the accountability and transparency of public bodies for decisions taken by them.

“However, there is also a public interest in the CCG being able to have free and frank exchange of views for the purpose of deliberation.”

The CCG also refused to provide details of the timing of the vote to determine whether the views of the three last remaining GPs at Banbury’s Horsefair Surgery were sought before they left in June.

The three came out vehemently against the downgrade in a letter to the CCG in November. Horsefair was taken over by a private management company.

Practices had one vote for every 5,000 patients. Votes were ‘weighted’ but that calculation is unexplained.

The Banbury Guardian has requested an internal review which should be completed within 20 days, or at most, 40 days.

The CCG has said it will take 40 days and ‘no later than’ December 5 – the day before the start of a full Judicial Review hearing into the lawfulness of the OCCG’s public consultation into Phase One of the Oxfordshire Transformation Plan seeking downgrade of maternity, permanent loss of 45 beds and reduction of intensive care at the Horton.

In August, the CCG board formally voted to make the temporary removal of consultant-led maternity permanent, after taking into account a very narrow majority of GPs in favour of the move. The CCG said results were 59 per cent in favour.

But the vote did not include Banburyshire GP surgeries in south Northants and south Warks whose patients use the Horton.

After the board decision, Sibford GP Dr Emma Haskew said: “The vote was taken just after the final three GPs from Horsefair left (representing 18,000 patients) which I feel is grossly unfair.

“Their vote in favour of the Horton... would have swung it to a majority against the proposals.

“I think we should know how individual practices voted and assume this will be public information.

“The GPs (45) all signed a letter against the maternity changes just a year ago.”

The CCG refusal said disclosure would ‘inhibit the ability of the OCCG and member practices to express themselves openly, honestly and completely as part of the process of deliberation’.

“It would also inhibit free and frank discussions in the future, with the loss of frankness and candour damaging the quality of deliberation and could impact on participation in future voting processes and thus lead to poorer decision making,” it added.

“Limited involvement by member practices and GPs in making key decisions is not in the public interest.

“Undermining the confidential nature of the voting process would deter future involvement.

“Undermining democratic processes is not in the public interest.

“Releasing the requested information would impact on OCCG quality of commissioning of services through honest deliberation and could potentially impact decisions being made that are not in the wider public interest.”

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