Former MP and Banbury High Steward Sir Tony Baldry has waded into the Horton campaign with a letter to the review panel chairman.
Sir Tony, who stepped down as MP in 2015, has written to Lord Ribeiro, chair of the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP), urging caution as he prepares an initial assessment of the removal of consultant-led maternity from Banbury to Oxford.
Lord Ribeiro has been asked for the initial assessment by Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt following referral of the downgrade by the Oxfordshire Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny committee.
In his letter, Sir Tony cautioned the chairman about claims that a majority of Banburyshire GPs was in favour of the downgrade.
“It was not so long ago the IRP recommended retention of consultant-led maternity services at the Horton and the IRP’s report was followed by some very hard work...to ensure (these) could continue.
“At the time...96 local GPs, i.e. every GP within the Horton catchment area, had written a joint letter
declaring that the then Oxford Radcliffe NHS Trust’s proposals to remove consultant-led maternity services from the HGH were ‘unsafe and unsustainable’.
“In practice, absolutely nothing has changed,” he wrote.
Sir Tony told Lord Ribiero he suspects health bosses will argue that this time, a majority of GPs has supported their proposal. But he said the vote result as ‘extremely slim’ and took place very soon after three ‘very long-serving and senior GPs in Banbury retired and their positions temporarily replaced by locums’.
He said health chiefs had not been willing to provide voting information.
“I think it a reasonable inference that those locums, recently arrived in the town, may have voted and if the vote had been taken even a week earlier the result would almost certainly have given a majority of GPs against the proposals.”
Sir Tony suggested there was ‘considerable peer pressure on GPs to suggest that in some ways they were not being ‘collegiate’ if they sought to support the retention of key services at the Horton’.
“So while I appreciate the IRP cannot entirely ignore the vote of GPs I would suggest it should in no way be seen as being in any way conclusive and I would suggest the IRP revisits its own very detailed and comprehehsive report of just a few years ago and consider that, in practice, nothing has changed so far as the needs of people living in Banbury and the surrounding area are concerned.
“Indeed, those needs have simply grown given the very considerable actual proposed growth of poulation in and around Banbury, north Oxfordshire and surrounding counties.
“And I would very much hope the IRP would find the conclusions the IRP came to the last time are as valid now as they were then.”
* The Banbury Guardian has complained to the Information Commissioner about the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group’s continued refusal to release information under the Freedom of Information Act about surgeries’ voting and the reasons for the timing of last summer’s vote.