The future of Horton’s full maternity service may be gone within the next month and this evening (Thursday) Banbury told Oxford hospital bosses in no uncertain terms they were not going to tolerate it.
A packed St Mary’s Church rocked to the rafters with heckling whenever senior managers, and their chief Dr Bruno Holthof mentioned the distance to the JR Hospital, tried to minimise the risk of death or harm to delivering mums and babies, or the time it takes to get to Oxford in a ‘blue light’ ambulance.
Horton supporters held up signs saying Dead - in an Ambulance whenever any of the Oxford University Hospitals Trust panel mentioned ‘patient safety’.
Vicar of St Mary’s, Rev Philip Cochrane had got to grips over the last week with evidence of Banburyshire’s fierce resistance to any downgrading of the maternity hospital or the full acute services the Horton currently provides.
Members of the Keep the Horton General Campaign, midwives, a special care baby unit nurse and many parents took the microphone and were cheered as they voiced universal concerns about centralising desperately needed acute services in Oxford.
The evening took a dramatic turn when retired Horsefair GP Surgery practice manager Andrew McHugh walked out to a standing ovation in protest at the Oxford University Trust’s insistence that it had made sufficient efforts to recruit specialist doctors to provide safe cover for the Horton maternity unit.
Mr McHugh cited an advert that he said refuted the trust’s claims it was offering enhanced pay and wide academic opportunities - a doctors’post he said was advertised online on the wrong website at ‘staffnurse.com’.
OUH Chief Executive Dr Bruno Holthof’s introductory speech was interrupted when KTHG chairman Keith Strangwood presented him with a 15,000 signature petition, gathered within the last three weeks, from local residents stating their wholehearted opposition to loss of any services at the Horton.
Dr Holthof said the decision of the trust Board next Wednesday on whether to activate a contingency plan to remove consultant led maternity to Oxford, in the absence of sufficient doctors in Banbury, would be taken in the best interests of patients. “The only driver will be safety,” he said. Stephen Kennedy, head of children’s and women’s services told the audience: “If you haven’t got the doctors you can’t run an obstetric unit.” Catherine Greenwood, senior obstetrician at the JR said: “I really don’t want to do this. I want it to be different.” Dr Peter Fisher, retired Horton consultant, said: “In 2006 you tried very hard to close it and we were only the winners because of the Independent Reconfiguration Panel. The forces in Oxford have long wanted to close obstetrics (in Banbury). “There is a consultation coming up on options to include closure of obstetrics and paediatrics, so how can we have faith that you want to keep (the maternity unit) open?” The Question and Answer Session, organised by Banbury MP Victoria Prentis and Banbury Town Council, covered topics including ambulance cover, distance and travel time to Oxford, accessibility for patients, carers and relatives, danger to mothers being transferred with complications during delivery and the perceived lack of faith that the Oxford managers had made sufficient efforts in time to ensure the Banbury unit could stay open.
Perhaps the best was saved until last when a Horton midwife took the stage to read out a statement on behalf of them all. “Until now our presence and our voices have remained quiet. But tonight I now call upon my sisters here in this hall to stand up with me. Stand tall stand proud and stand united in our one voice, our one message,” she said. Midwives in the audience stood up.
“We are all at our very core only focused on one thing, the safe provision of quality care to the women and families in our charge,” the midwife said.
“We plead now personally to you Dr Bruno Holthof to reject your Trust’s contingency plans, to insist your obstetric consultants across both hospitals pull together temporarily with agency doctors until the proposed Ugandan doctors (to be interviewed next week) are in post.
“We demand we are no longer silenced, that our contribution and place within OUHFT is acknowledged and respected and that despite the lack of trust in your Trust, Dr Holthof, you prove to us, your staff, that you are patient focused, women centred and recognise fully the important crucial role the whole of the Horton General Hospital plays in this growing community.” A full report will appear in next week’s Banbury Guardian.