Anger over suspension of NHS vasectomy procedures in Oxfordshire

Keith Strangwood at The Horton General Hospital, Maternity Unit, in Banbury. NNL-160706-143901009
Keith Strangwood at The Horton General Hospital, Maternity Unit, in Banbury. NNL-160706-143901009

Health campaigners have slammed the decision to suspend all new vasectomy procedures on the NHS in Oxfordshire until next year and potentially indefinitely.

Patients will be advised to pay for the procedure privately or apply for individual funding as the backlog of more than 450 scheduled operations is ‘unmanageable’.

Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (OCCG) has taken the decision to suspend the service for the remainder of 2018/19 because of a lack of funds but a senior official said in an email last week it is likely it will be ended altogether.

There are fears the move will lead to more pressure on maternity services – the Horton had to temporarily close its midwife-led maternity unit so midwives could be requisitioned to the busy JR unit in Oxford last week.

Keith Strangwood, chairman of campaign group Keep the Horton General, described the decision as madness and criticised those in charge of planning services at OCCG.

He said: “What they are doing is creating a problem for themselves as how many more babies are going to need maternity services as a result of doing away with vasectomies?

“These hospital planners seem to be driven only by budget not by actually planning services.”

Dr Shelley Hayles from OCCG wrote to Oxfordshire practice managers confirming the suspension ‘as we are overspent and under capacity on the contract so the waiting list is becoming unmanageable’.

Those with vasectomy appointments will be treated but no new operations will be scheduled for Oxfordshire-registered patients, who will be advised to seek private care, apply for funding or use alternative forms of contraception.

Banbury Labour Health Matters chairman Sue Edgar said this will unfairly impact woman unable to take hormonal contraceptives and poorer couples as a private vasectomy can cost around £500.

“At the very least this will mean terrible choices for a lot of women and for a lot of couples and families,” she said.

“At worst it is a trip back to more brutal times, when the choices were between unsuitable methods of birth control or unwanted pregnancy. The spectre of backstreet abortion is back to haunt us.”

An OCCG spokesman said the executive management team agreed the vasectomy service provided by British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) for Oxfordshire should be suspended at its meeting on July 24.

In summing up the reasons, the spokesman said: “The BPAS does not have capacity to see the numbers of referrals being sent there in spite of increasing capacity to see more patients.

“The contract for vasectomy is coming up for procurement and handing over a large waiting list would not be helpful for a new service, so suspending the service until the waiting list is cleared is the preferred way of managing current high demand.”

The OCCG spokesman added that any further steps will be taken as required and any new patients referred now would not be seen until April, 2019 because of the backlog of people waiting, so future patients ‘will not be disadvantaged by the moratorium on service provision’.