The NHS review body says it ‘stands ready’ to scrutinise the permanent downgrading of the Horton General Hospital’s maternity unit.
In an assessment released on Tuesday, the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP) announced it does not see the value of a full review into last October’s temporary closure, seven months after the downgrade was referred.
That first referral has effectively been nullified by a decision by Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (OCCG) in August to permanently close the consultant-led unit at the Banbury hospital, after a new referral was made by elected councillors of the Oxfordshire Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (JHOSC).
IRP chairman Lord Ribeiro said in his assessment: “Subsequent events have now overtaken the substance of this referral.
“The governing body of the clinical commissioning group decided on August 10, 2017, to remove obstetric care from the Horton and replace it with a permanent midwife-led unit.
“The panel understands from press reports that the JHOSC has declared its intention to refer that decision to the Secretary of State.
“When that referral materialises, the IRP stands ready to offer advice if requested.”
This time last year, OCCG temporarily closed the consultant-led unit at the Banbury hospital as it was deemed unsafe because of a lack of doctors.
This was referred to the Secretary of State by the JHOSC in a bid to reverse the decision.
Lord Ribeiro said he understood the initial, temporary downgrade of the consultant-led maternity ward was in the interest of patient safety, but the decision did not need to be revisited again as a decision to permanently close the full obstetric service has since been made.
The OCCG’s decision in August to permanently close the consultant-led unit and create a midwife-only ward was automatically referred to the government by JHOSC as agreed in an emergency meeting three days before.
So the first referral has been superseded by the second one.
Press and media reports since Tuesday have revealed some confusion that his assessment meant the end of the road for the campaign to reinstate full maternity in Banbury.
Keep the Horton General is focusing on the judicial review into the OCCG’s processes of downgrading the Horton, which is scheduled for December 6, 7 and 8, and was not surprised by the IRP’s ruling.
Chairman Keith Strangwood said: “We’re not bothered, we expected it and we are much more interested in the next step which is the hearing in December.
“When Mr Justice Fraser passed down his summary, he described this as so serious that he expedited it so we jumped the queue because of its importance.
“Now if Mr Justice Fraser thinks this is so important, we have to hope that the person hearing the case in December thinks the same.
“If they decide in our favour then that really puts the cat amongst the pigeons as far as the OCCG is concerned.”
In 2008, the IRP ruled that the then Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals Trust (now Oxford University Hospitals Trust) should not downgrade the Horton, including its consultant-led maternity unit, because Oxford was too far to transfer women in delivery, or seriously sick and injured patients.
Such transfers were described as ‘unsafe and inhumane’.
JHOSC chairman and Deddington county councillor Arash Fatemain has been contacted for comment.