Are hospital bosses planning to move the Horton General Hospital to a new site in Banbury?
Councillors at district and county level have planned to present identical motions asking for full local authority support for the Oxford University Hospital Trust (OUH) and its NHS partners' redevelopment plans to deliver an improved facility 'on the hospital’s existing site or at a new and improved one within the Banbury area that is accessible to residents across the Horton’s unique four-county catchment area'.
Top bosses at the OUH were asked by the Horton Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HHOSC) in December to speed up production of a development plan that has been promised since 2016, when the Horton's maternity unit was downgraded to a midwife-only unit and 46 beds were closed without consultation.
At the December meeting - reported in the Banbury Guardian - OUH chiefs said they would be bidding for one of eight remaining NHS capital grants to see the masterplan through, although there was no blueprint on paper and were are no guarantees the Horton would win money from the cash-strapped Government.
Relocation, however, would release a substantial sum of money from the sale of the acres on which the Horton campus currently sits.
OUH chief Dr Bruno Holthof and Oxfordshire commissioners pledged a 'hospital fit for the 21st century' at the downgraded Banbury hospital. But at the December meeting he declined to agree to a proposed deadline of the end of March for the redevelopment business plan to be brought to HHOSC because of the pressures caused by the Covid pandemic.
However, both Dr Holthof and Prof Sir Jonathan Montgomery, chairman of the Trust, agreed it would be brought to the committee as soon as practicable and it is thought work has been progressing on the project behind closed doors.
Rumours of relocation have been voiced over the past few years of uncertainty with regard to the Horton.
In December Cllr Andrew McHugh, Cherwell District Council's lead member for health and well-being, brought a motion welcoming efforts to retain acute services at the Horton and calling for the development of the masterplan without delay.
The motion ended with the intriguing suggestion of a 'new and improved' site as an option. An identical motion was to have been discussed at Oxfordshire County Council's meeting today (Tuesday) but it was shelved following a harrowing debate on domestic violence.
OUH media office refused to discuss the issue when asked by the Banbury Guardian this week.
"The Trust will provide an update in due course but there won’t be an official OUH comment on this at this time," said a spokesman.
Charlotte Bird, media officer for Keep the Horton General, said: "KTHG is obviously delighted to hear of a scheme that will provide better services for the people of Banburyshire. One of our overriding concerns has always been the inability of many people to access services if they are not provided in Banbury.
"Would a new site have plans for a shuttle bus service to and from Banbury? We look forward to an open discussion as early as possible with the Trust. We are saddened that the plans seem to be shrouded in secrecy.
"As a long-declared ‘interested party’ we would very much like reassurance that, as outgoing head of Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, Lou Patten, and Dr Holthof agreed, KTHG should be included in planning for our hospital in Banbury."