Vision for masterplan for future of Banbury's Horton hospital is being 'blurred' as a blueprint is delayed

The Covid-19 pandemic has altered hospital provision in Banbury and the much-vaunted vision for a 'Flagship hospital for the 21st century' has changed.

Prof Louise Wallace, former CEO of the Horton General Hospital who wants to see plans for the 'vision' for the Banbury campus
Prof Louise Wallace, former CEO of the Horton General Hospital who wants to see plans for the 'vision' for the Banbury campus

Instead of a new, state-of-the-art building, changes may be reduced to reflect fewer visits and more consultations by telephone and video, Banburyshire councillors have been told.

A meeting of the Horton Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HHOSC) was given assurances by bosses of Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust (OUH) that they would be bidding for one of eight remaining NHS capital grants to see the masterplan through.

However there is no blueprint on paper and there are no guarantees the Horton will win money from the cash-strapped Government.

Prof Sir Jonathan Montgomery, chairman of the OUH

The 'vision' of a district hospital fit for the 21st century has been promised by OUH chief executive, Dr Bruno Holthof, and the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group for four years, since the Horton was downgraded. The Oxfordshire Transformation Plan saw Horton 45 beds closed, removal of full maternity and intensive care reduced.

In 2016, OCCG planners displayed artists' impressions of a multi-storey building to replace dilapidated buildings that, in 2017, were expected to cost nearly £8m to put right.

Health chiefs promised an extra 60,000 - 90,000 Horton appointments to bring treatment closer to home and ease pressure on Oxford.

At the recent HHOSC meeting, chairman Cllr Arash Fatemian said he accepted the number of extra appointments might be only a third of those promised but he pressed OUH chiefs on the need for planning to start and for Banbury's representatives to be part of building that plan.

Dr Bruno Holthof, CEO of the OUH who said the Horton will be a Flagship District General Hospital for the 21st century

Mr Fatemian said: "You (the OUH) are working on a master plan or to submit to the Department of Health... when the rules of the race (for the funding bid) become clear, you want to be in the best possible position to win that race. This committee is an important local stakeholder... and KTHG is a strong local stakeholder and... the earlier you engage with both the better."

At a Board meeting of OCCG the previous day, Prof Louise Wallace, former CEO of the Horton General Hospital, welcomed the 'vision' for the Horton but also questioned the timescale.

"We're lacking a clear view of what clinical services are going to be planned for. The site is a mix of buildings that date from 1872, some that have long been scheduled for demolition.

"Four years ago a site report identified the basic needs for keeping the buildings fit for purpose as a £7.4m upgrade. I'm not clear how much of that has happened. Every time we have a review, there's always a promise... that we will have a District General Hospital (DGH) fit for the 21st century. But at the moment, it's not clear what that DGH will be providing so it's not clear what facilities still need to be there.

KTHG chairman Keith Strangwood who believes the vision for the Horton is becoming blurred

"It's good to hear we have got an upgrade for A&E and we've got a mobile CT scanner but note it's mobile, that doesn't mean that it's necessarily integrated here for ever."

Prof Wallace said NHS England had accepted removal of obstetrics from the Horton in the light of the proposed masterplan. "But we haven't seen the plans," she said.

"We seem to have another piecemeal development on the Horton site and it remains a hodgepodge of buildings that really don't fit together well and don't look to me like a 21st century DGH. Where is the clinical plan and when are we going to see it (and) comment on it?"

Prof Wallace said she feared the community would get rushed into the position of having to put in a plan to NHS England.

The Horton General Hospital which has been earmarked as a Flagship District General Hospital for the 21st Century

Prof Sir Jonathan Montgomery, chairman of OUH, told HHOSC: "We'll work on date where we have got something we can properly share and not disappoint."

David Walliker, OUH chief digital and partnerships officer, said: "The key focus is how we overcome our disappointment that we weren't named as one of those first draft of successful hospitals (for grant funding) in October. (NHSE) announced that there would be eight more hospitals that could receive funding. We have been encouraged to pursue that. But I'm sure we'll all be aware that probably everybody was encouraged to pursue that."

Keith Strangwood, chairman of Keep the Horton General (KTHG) said: "The vision is just a vision - it could be they don't get the money and it all disappears. This vision has been looking a bit blurred for some time. I can't see how we can risk what we have for something that may never happen."