Campaigners in Banbury have voiced feares about the formation of what they see as a ‘secret’ planning group for health bosses and councillors.
They say the new sub-group, where Oxfordshire Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HOSC) will meet with Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (OCCG) behind closed doors to plan service changes, goes against a new spirit of openness.
Sue Edgar, a founder member of Keep the Horton General (KTHG) group, said: “Just when OCCG are promising more local discussion we find them going into secret meetings with some new HOSC sub-committee to discuss ‘major service changes’.
“I somehow don’t believe scrutiny can be a secret function. Scrutiny is about accountability and openness.
“As for OCCG, shame on them. They promised a new start in these major consultations.
“A new approach, local involvement, real listening to local views and now they slam the door in the public’s face and declare these decisions are for the grown-ups only.”
Cllr Arash Fatemian, chairman of HOSC, said: “There is no decision making in this group. This group will not decide what constitutes change and will not make any decisions at all, let alone before the public have their say.
“It is a planning group, nothing more. It is an advanced lookout for a supertanker that is difficult to steer. That is all.
“Any comment that this group will make decisions or that the public will be in any way excluded from decision making is just wrong.”
At last Thursday’s HOSC meeting where formation of the group was confirmed, Keep Our NHS Public’s Liz Peretz said: “Don’t throw away our only real voice to question and scrutinise change through this... ‘behind closed doors’, non-democratic committee.
“The protocol may include plans for its decisions to be minuted and put – after the fact – into the public domain but this will not preserve the right of each councillor on the committee to request scrutiny of every change and its impact on the people you serve. And it will not preserve HOSC’s essential transparency.”
Complaints about the formation of the HOSC sub-planning group – which will involve the OCCG, Mr Fatemian and three members of HOSC meeting in private twice a month – comes weeks after OCCG pledged to work more closely with patients, the wider public and key stakeholders to ‘co design services based on the... needs of the population’.
This pledge was made after publication of a highly critical Care Quality Commission full system review into health and social care provision in Oxfordshire.
A subsequent report by the Independent Reconfiguration Panel into the closure of the consultant maternity unit at the Horton – with a demand for re-examination of evidence – added to calls for greater transparency and collaboration with the public in health service planning.
At a recent OCCG board meeting, chief executive Lou Patten promised to work closely with patients and the public.
“Over the next few weeks we will describe how we plan to work with the public and other stakeholders in looking at the population’s health and care needs in order to develop together a health and social care system that is fit for the future.”
KTHG press officer Charlotte Bird said: “We are concerned that the first development since that promise to show openness, they are planning covert meetings with a small group of councillors who are the public’s only route to genuine examination and scrutiny of Oxfordshire NHS’s plans for the future – which include changes to achieve £200m in cuts from our expected budgets by 2021.”
*The Banbury Guardian approached the OCCG for a comment but no response was received before we went to press.