Health chiefs confirm permanent loss of Horton's consultant-led maternity unit

Protesters ahead of the meeting.
Protesters ahead of the meeting.

Oxfordshire health bosses have confirmed the permanent loss of full maternity services in Banbury.

Mothers will now have to travel 25 or more miles to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford to give birth unless they are prepared to have their babies in the midwife-led unit set up at the Horton General Hospital.

The OCCG Board meeting at Examination Schools in Oxford.

The OCCG Board meeting at Examination Schools in Oxford.

The Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group Board took the decision not to reinstate consultant-led maternity despite a brave attempt by lay member Prof Louise Wallace to have the decision on permanent loss of obstetrics put off until the second phase of the controversial consultation on Phase Two of the Oxfordshire Transformation Plan.

During the meeting, the OCCG board members voted to support the following proposals from the consultation:
• Transfer of Level 3 Critical Care from the Horton to the John Radcliffe (JR) in Oxford.
• A complete transfer of immediate care for suspected Strokes to the JR.
• To make permanent the temporary downgrade of the Horton maternity unit from an obstetric to a midwife led unit (MLU).
• The permanent closure of 110 acute beds, followed by a further 36 bed closures dependent on approval by the Clinical Senate
• An increase in Planned Care Services at the Horton, including plans for a new Diagnostic and Outpatient facility.

Campaigners have warned from the outset that loss of consultant-led maternity would be the first in a 'domino effect' which they fear will result in a complete loss of acute hospital services in Banbury.

The decision not to reinstate full maternity has automatically triggered a referral of the issue to the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, by the Oxfordshire Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (JHOSC) after a decision taken at that committee's emergency meeting on Monday.

Loss of full maternity has already affected anaesthetics and Health Education England is set to remove training accreditation for that discipline at the Banbury hospital.

The CCG Board also confirmed its plan to change stroke protocols, reduce intensive care provision to exclude ventilation, to increase day surgery provision and diagnostics at the Horton and to confirm the loss of 45 beds closed without consultation last October.

Banbury MP Victoria Prentis and Witney MP Robert Courts urged the board not to go ahead with the proposals and Keep the Horton General Campaign chairman Keith Strangwood put the blame firmly at the door of the government and NHS England for demanding £22 billion of cuts to the NHS by 2020.

Mr Strangwood said: "This CCG should say 'no' to NHS England and NHS England should say 'no' to the government.

"The plan for closure of beds has not been tried or tested or proven. The CCG says all this is community-led but I get a very different .view from GPs.

"Level three anaesthetics has already gone and that is not good for the Horton's A&E. The options paper presented in May 2016 suggest that in Phase Two, they will suggest a minor injuries unit in Banbury.

"We need to keep what we have. It has often been said it was a mistake to merge with the JR. They need to come clean and tell us this is about money, then we'd know what we're up against."

He told the Board: "You have a choice today; choose life."

Board members and the Oxford University Hospitals Trust medical director Dr Tony Berendt repeatedly said there was a staffing crisis with huge vacancies in the level of obstetric doctor needed to maintain a consultant-led maternity unit at the Horton.

Dr Berendt said the plan is 'compelling' and safety and sustainability are paramount, which adds to the CCG's vibrant vision for the hospital.

Dr Kiran Collison urged those concerned to believe the proposals are safe as she would not recommend them otherwise.

Concerns about travel time should be allayed by the fact guidelines say it should not take longer than an hour and the average ambulance times from the Horton to the JR has been 38 minutes, she said.

Dr Collison added that the JR does have the capacity and it would not make sense to make consultants from Oxford to Banbury to staff the unit and have mid-level doctors at the JR.