A major public meeting is to be held to ensure all voices are heard in the debate on the future of maternity services at the Horton.
At the first meeting of a Horton ‘Super’ HOSC scrutiny committee, chairman Arash Fatemian invited mothers, families, the public, clinicians, Royal Colleges, councillors, midwives and others to give a voice to Banbury.
Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (OCCG) chief Lou Patten said she would take a ‘new approach’ to the matter after two years of controversy over centralisation of maternity care in Oxford.
Cllr Fatemian said: “We want an evidence-gathering meeting for members of the public who want to give their experiences, the district council, the Royal Colleges, midwives, Healthwatch and others.” The meeting will take place in December.
Today’s (Friday) meeting brought together eight Oxfordshire councillors with one from south Warks and one from south Northants in a new Health and Scrutiny Committee tasked with reviewing evidence used to replace Banburyshire’s full consultant-led maternity with a midwife-only unit.
Cllr Andrew McHugh, Cherwell District Council’s portfolio-holder for Health and Wellbeing, told members of OCCG and Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust (OUH) the downgrade was all about staffing.
He said: “It’s all but impossible to recruit staff to an obstetric unit known to be under threat.”
He said new, flexible rules in obstetric training should soon ease a national shortage and that cheaper housing in Banbury - compared to Oxford - should give the Horton an advantage in recruitment.
Cllr McHugh appealed to OCCG and OUH, in the light of undisputed population growth, to commit to a Horton obstetric maternity unit over the next five years as viability develops increasingly.
OCCG’s Sarah Adair said the group would seek views of women and families across Oxfordshire.
“We seek views of women and families who use maternity services across Oxfordshire. We need to take into consideration the views of people who’ve used the midwife unit at the Horton and from the north who’ve used the obstetric unit at the JR. But we have to do it in the context of Oxfordshire. We will pull together a report that would then be used during the options appraisal.”
Cllr Neil Owen (West Oxon) expressed frustration that OCCG appeared not to have seen ‘horror stories’ about women’s experiences in childbirth since the downgrade.
He said: “I’m fed up with the way it carries on... where we are bedevilled with bureaucracy. You (OCCG) always say ‘we’ll make plans for the good of Oxfordshire countywide’. That stops anything ever happening anywhere.” He said the CCG should think of the Horton first.
Cllr Kieron Mallon said nothing had changed materially since the outcome of the Independent Reconfiguration Panel in 2008, which ordered retention of a consultant-led maternity unit in Banbury.
He said every minute mothers in labour were delayed in transfer was a risk to life. And he warned against current birth statistics being used for strategy, as mothers across the county border were being forced to ‘choose’ to give birth elsewhere.
Cllr Fiona Baker of Northamptonshire said she was distressed to hear views would be sought from Oxfordshire when south Northants was only ‘across the motorway’ from Banbury.
She said the cross-border councillors may be new to the Horton health scrutiny but they are ‘passionate’ about the situation. Cllr Baker, who lives in Brackley, said the town had increased by 2,000 houses.
“The population has doubled in Brackley since this began,” she said.
Lib Dem Cllr Alison Rooke from Abingdon said she thought ‘Option nine’ - commending a full obstetric unti with along-side midwife unit at the Horton - was ‘absolutely crucial’. Mrs Rooke said the people of Banbury were ‘the local experts’ who should be listened to over and above others.