Horton campaigners head to London next week to the Royal Courts of Justice where they hope the permanent downgrading of Banbury’s hospital may yet be stalled.
Keep the Horton General (KTHG) group is sending representatives to the court where a three-day Judicial Review hearing will take place.
The case has been brought by Cherwell, South Northants and Stratford-on-Avon district councils and Banbury Town Council together with KTHG.
The groups have challenged the lawfulness of Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group’s (OCCG) public consultation into the downgrades.
“Banburyshire folk have helped raise some £40,000 for KTHG’s legal fees and a very effective QC who is stressing our case,” said KTHG chairman Keith Strangwood.
“Our witness statements include important evidence we hope will prove the consultation was fatally flawed.”
Cherwell’s lawyers have submitted bales of evidence to convince the High Court judge the consultation should be repeated – only as a single process rather than in two-phases.
The full hearing, starting on Tuesday, was ordered by a High Court judge at a pre-hearing in September.
Mr Justice Fraser moved the case up the High Court lists in view of the imminent nature of the changes.
As well as extensive evidence from the councils, he heard detailed witness statements from Mr Strangwood, retired Horton consultant Dr Peter Fisher of KTHG and Roseanne Edwards of the Banbury Guardian.
The challenge from the Banburyshire councils and KTHG came after a year of changes starting last summer when Oxford University Hospitals decided to remove consultant-led maternity to Oxford because it could not recruit enough obstetric doctors.
At the same time it closed 45 medical beds – a major change which should have been consulted on but was not.
Oxfordshire’s Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee – comprising Oxfordshire district and county councillors – feared a repeat of the 2006 Horton downgrading battle and called for public consultation without further delay.
OCCG’s eventual consultation – while planning £200m of cuts for the Government’s Sustainability and Transformation plan – proposed permanent removal of the Horton’s consultant-led maternity, special care baby unit and the 45 beds, adding downgrading the Horton’s intensive care unit and changes to stroke care.
It intends to consult on plans for A&E and the children’s ward next year.
The councils came out against the ‘Phase One’ plans. Their legal advisers found serious flaws in last spring’s consultation and councillors decided to seek Judicial Review – supported by KTHG and overwhelmingly the Banburyshire public.
Mr Strangwood said: “The consultation should not have been split. It was inadequate; information was difficult to find and much was offered far too late for people to digest and respond to adequately.
“We hope the High Court judge will agree with us next week.”
Cherwell leader Cllr Barry Wood said: “Cherwell District Council and its local government partners intend to present a robust case at the court hearing to demonstrate the flawed nature of the CCG’s consultation process.
“The council has taken specialist clinical advice to properly and clearly reflect the widespread concerns of local people to the consultation on the reduction of acute services at the Horton General Hospital.”