Fury and dismay at Horton Hospital decisions

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Anger broke out this week following the controversial decision to permanently close full-maternity services at Horton.

Some GPs have joined campaigners, MPs and councillors to vent their fury.

Campaigners this week accused Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (OCCG) of “micro-managing the Horton to death”.

And a local GP has expressed exasperation over the way in which OCCG last week voted to push through downgrading of the maternity services.

Dr Emma Haskew of Sibford Surgery has come out strongly against loss of acute services at the Horton along with many other GPs in practices not only in the North Oxfordshire Locality Group (NOLG) but also in villages such as Tysoe, Shipston, Byfield, Brackley and Kineton whose patients use the Horton.

Although these Banburyshire practices feed into the Horton and support its survival, their GPs were not given a vote in the final representations to the OCCG Board.

The downgrade decisions taken last Thursday include permanent removal of the consultant-led maternity department, leaving a midwife-only unit for a small fraction of Banburyshire’s deliveries.

Locality clinical director Dr Paul Park told the board there had been exhaustive and detailed discussions among GPs in NOLG. But Dr Haskew said she felt the talks were only ever a ‘tick box’ exercise and that the decision was taken months ago.

“Although some local GPs are still voicing opposition to the proposals I think most are worn down by the huge problems in general practice and feel they are trying to fight the inevitable,” she said.

“The powers-that-be in Oxford have made this decision with little regard to local health needs of local people.”

Dr Park had one of 13 votes at last Thursday’s OCCG Board meeting, to be used on behalf of local GPs, and he voted according to results recorded through an email vote, which was weighted to give one vote for each 5,000 patients, for example, giving large practices of 15,000 patients three votes.

In his evidence he said that currently only 49 per cent of NOLG GPs were against the proposals, which meant a majority in favour of the permanent closure proposal. Twelve months ago, all local surgeries signed a letter to OCCG voicing their unequivocal opposition to the move.

Some Banburyshire GPs have highlighted the fact that the voting process was conducted only five weeks after the last three remaining, long-standing doctors at Horsefair Surgery (18,000 patients) left, replaced by locum GPs provided by a private medical company. They say if these three highly Horton-supportive GPs had voted, a majority in opposition to downgrading of maternity would have been almost certain and this would have changed the complexion of the OCCG’s resolution.

The vehement views of GPs against downgrading of the Horton in 2007 were a powerful factor in the Independent Reconfiguration Panel’s decision to demand the Oxford hospital trust to retain services in Banbury.