Breaking: 'End of the road' in fight for full maternity service in Banbury - but campaigners say downgrade must remain temporary

Horton General Hospital supporters have vowed not to give up the fight for a return of a full maternity service at the Horton in spite of an 'end of the road' letter over the downgrade of services.

By Matt Elofson
Wednesday, 25th November 2020, 1:04 pm

Chairman of the committee set up to ensure all of Banburyshire was consulted on the replacement of the obstetric unit with a midwife-only service announced today (Wednesday November 25) that the Department of Health has rejected a referral of the matter for reconsideration.

Keep the Horton General campaign group immediately countered the Secretary of State's reaction saying the downgrade can only ever be seen as temporary.

Oxford University Hospitals Trust moved obstetrics and the special care baby unit to the JR, Oxford in October 2016 claiming they could not recruit staff to the Horton and the service was 'unsafe'.

Sign up to our daily Banbury Guardian Today newsletter

Horton General Hospital supporters have vowed not to give up the fight for a return of a full maternity service at the Horton in spite of an 'end of the road' letter over the downgrade. (file photo)

Cllr Arash Fatemian, who has chaired the Horton Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HHOSC), said: "I am afraid it appears we have come to the end of the road regarding our efforts to keep obstetric-led maternity services at the Horton.

"In September 2019, this committee (decided) that should the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (OCCG) proceed with the recommendation to permanently downgrade obstetric-led maternity services at the hospital that this decision should be referred to the Secretary of State. The CCG went ahead with the board recommendation and and a detailed referral was submitted early in December 2019.

"In September we heard that the Department of Health (DOH) had concluded our referral was not valid. Upon receipt of this letter I instantly felt this conclusion was a gross misunderstanding of our position and immediately requested an urgent review. With support and assistance from Oxfordshire County Council and Cherwell District Council's Head of Legal, I wrote back to the minister.

"We made a robust case... outlining in the strongest possible terms how the decision to permanently downgrade maternity services at the Horton was not in the best interests of local mothers and babies, and that the substance of this second referral differed from the referral of 2017/18. I have not received a response to that letter despite repeated assurances that a reply would be imminent."

Cllr Arash Fatemian chair the Horton Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HHOSC) File photo

Mr Fatemian said legal opinion on the likely success of a Judicial Review was 'at best' 30 per cent, a view supported by former MP Sir Tony Baldry, a barrister.

"When a barrister and former MP who has spent a lifetime defending the Horton believes that the decision is final and that there are no further legal avenues available, I think, however hard it is to accept, we should be realistic and take heed of the counsel we have been given."

Mr Fatemian quoted Churchill: "This is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never - in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense."

"There is no honour in the course of action not to pursue this further, but there is the conviction of good sense, from wiser and much more experienced heads than mine," said Mr Fatemian - saying he recommended this course of action with 'the heaviest of hearts', leaving him angry and bitterly disappointed.

"I am resolute in my belief that the maternity downgrade is not in the best interests of local mothers and babies and that the conclusions of the IRP’s judgement in 2008 can still be applied today."

He said he would never forget the testimony of brave mothers, supporters of KTHG, who came forward to share their experiences.

He added: "As a community we have been united in our campaign on this issue and I frequently cite this as an example of how we can put party politics aside and come together for a greater cause.

"The fight will not end. The CCG has pledged to regularly review maternity provision at the Horton and this committee has an important role to play in holding them to account on this promise. We will also work positively with the trust to realise and implement a vision for the future of our beloved hospital."

Keith Strangwood, chairman of KTHG, said: "14 months ago Lou Patten ex CEO of OCCG, told KTHG the removal of obstetrics isn't an end to Horton obstetrics and that the subject will continually be revisited to evaluate the need. I would call upon Arash Fatemian and his committee to ensure any Horton Vision plan must include an obstetric unit at any future Horton refurbished site.

"We all owe this to the heartbroken mothers and fathers who have suffered so since the loss of obstetrics in 2016. We all owe it to those who have suffered pain or loss, and those who may also suffer the same pain and or loss of a child, due to current policy."

Dr Peter Fisher, retired Horton consultant and KTHG member, said: "In most of the country changes have had to be made to normal services to deal with pressures induced by Covid-19, but it is not intended that these changes should be permanent and efforts will be made to restore normal services when possible.

"It is essential that the closure of Horton obstetrics, although we may accept it as unavoidable in the short term, should retain the status of a temporary measure, not a permanent one, bearing in mind the decision of the IRP as recently as 2018 that the closure presented unacceptable risks."

North Oxfordshire MP, Victoria Prentis, has spoken out following news about the downgrade of the Horton’s maternity unit.

Victoria said: “It is disappointing news that the decision to remove consultant-led maternity services at the Horton General Hospital will not be referred to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel. Over the past few years the campaign to keep a fully-functioning maternity unit has been hard fought by the whole community. Now is not the time to give up.

“Over the past few months, the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has been working on its masterplan for the Horton. The “Fit for the Future” vision builds on positive changes made during the pandemic response. For example, it reflects the shift to digital delivery of outpatient care and provides more flexible clinical space. It is a realistic and deliverable project that demonstrates a genuine commitment to the future of our local and much-loved General Hospital.

“We know that the Department for Health and Social Care is looking to allocate funding to the final 'new' hospitals as part of its Health Infrastructure Plan. My hope is that we can continue to work together as a community, alongside our local health authorities, to unite behind our vision and demonstrate that we genuinely deserve this funding.

“The Horton has been serving people in our area for almost 150 years. The past 15 years have not been easy for the hospital as its services have faced possible downgrade and closure.

"We now have the opportunity to start a new, more positive chapter. I hope the people of Banbury will join me in supporting our vision to realise the potential of the Horton General Hospital so that it can become truly ‘fit for the future’ in the decades to come.”