A decision on whether the consultation on downgrading the Horton General Hospital was lawful may not be made for weeks, it has emerged.
Lawyers acting for Banburyshire’s challenge in the judicial review hearing which began yesterday, Wednesday December 6, say it could be weeks or even months before the High Court judge decides whether public consultation met the legal requirements.
Keep the Horton General campaign group has already called for the first steps in Phase Two of the Oxfordshire Transformation Plan – focussed on the children’s ward and A&E – to be put on ice until the verdict is given.
Chairman Keith Strangwood said ahead of the hearing: “Because the decision of the judge in the pre-hearing was given on the day, everyone thought the same would happen in the case of the main hearing this week. But we are told it is extremely unlikely we will get a decision for anything up to two months.
“If that is the case, it would be wrong for the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group to start discussions on a new process of extensive changes which we have been told were going to start this month.”
This week’s main hearing started on Tuesday when the judge spent the day reading evidence and witness statements and supporting reports.
These bales of information run to thousands of pages and include witness statements from Ian Davies, director of operations at Cherwell and South Northants District Councils, Mr Strangwood, retired Horton consultant Dr Peter Fisher, Banbury Guardian health reporter Roseanne Edwards and OCCG chief David Smith.
The challenge to OCCG’s public consultation process was brought by Cherwell, South Northants and Stratford-on-Avon district councils and Banbury Town Council.
Keep the Horton General is an ‘interested party’ and will be represented by QC Samantha Broadfoot.
The claimants believe OCCG did not consult the public on the development of options for future provision (as required by government) or, once presented, give the public sufficient information at an early enough stage to allow them to understand and respond properly to the permanent changes planned for north Oxfordshire.
They do not believe the OCCG met the criteria for certain tests ordered by the Department of Health before closure of beds. They also object to the late publication of scores of reports to which they felt the public should have had access.
Referred to in the court papers as the ‘late deluge’, these documents were appendices to the business case for the hospital changes that were only put up online the day after the last public consultation meeting held at St Mary’s Church, Banbury on March 16, where calls were made by campaigners for the appendices to be made public.
The changes at the heart of the consultation included permanent loss of consultant-led maternity and special care baby unit – moved to the JR Hospital, Oxford a year ago, permanent closure of 45 medical beds, permanent loss of emergency gynaecology anddowngrading of intensive care from level three to level two.
Keep the Horton General legal team, witnesses and a number of local politicians have attended the Royal Courts of Justice for the public hearing days – yesterday (Wednesday) and today (Thursday).
A coach bearing campaigners from across the Banburyshire area was also expected for today’s final day of the long-anticipated hearing.