Health chiefs refuse to disclose GPs’ votes despite media request

Protesters outside the OCCG meeting on downgrading the Horton General Hospital NNL-171108-151244001
Protesters outside the OCCG meeting on downgrading the Horton General Hospital NNL-171108-151244001
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Oxfordshire health bosses who are pursuing a downgrade of the Horton have denied an appeal for release of details of GPs’ voting over the hospital’s maternity ward.

The Banbury Guardian has now complained to the Information Commissioner – the arbiter of Freedom of Information – about Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning group’s decision to withhold the information.

In early September, as evidence was being gathered for the Judicial Review to determine the lawfulness of the consultation into the Oxfordshire Transformation Plan (one of whose main changes was permanent loss of consultant maternity from the Horton) the paper asked for a breakdown of voting by surgery.

It also asked for an explanation of the OCCG’s reasons for the timing of its e-vote.

The vote was run in July, soon after three GPs who were vehemently against the downgrade of the maternity unit, left Banbury’s Horsefair Surgery. They were replaced by locum GPs provided by a private medical company and the Banbury Guardian wanted to find out if these new GPs took the vote the former, long-standing doctors would have, had the vote had been run earlier.

Campaigners believe that, had the new GPs voted in favour, it could have been the factor that gave the OCCG Board a majority in favour of loss of consultant-led maternity.

Keep the Horton General (KTHG) campaign chairman Keith Strangwood said: “We support the paper in this complaint. We believe if those original GPs had been included in the vote the result might have shown a very different outcome – the opposite of the result the OCCG used to base its final decision on at its Board meeting on August 10.”

The result – narrowly in favour of permanent removal of obstetrics, special care baby unit and emergency gynaecology to Oxford – was a crucial element in the decision by OCCG Board when it confirmed the move.

OCCG firstly delayed responding to the September FOI request by a month – which it was entitled to do – and at the end of the next month’s deadline, refused to provide the information .

The Banbury Guardian requested an internal review, due no later than December 5 – the first day of the Judicial Review.

After repeated requests that a response was delivered, OCCG emailed its decision to uphold its decision.

The OCCG said providing the information was ‘not in the public interest’ and would ‘be likely to inhibit the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation’.

The Banbury Guardian and campaign group Keep the Horton General (KTHG) believe GPs’ views are very much in the public interest. 45 GPs signed a letter unequivocally opposing the loss of obstetrics a year ago.

In their letter to OCCG they said: “We feel (downgrading of the Horton) will have a huge impact on our patients and make it far harder for them to access healthcare services.

“We recognise that very specialist healthcare is best delivered in larger centres but what is threatened is the dismantling of basic services at the Horton such as maternity and child health with the subsequent knock-on effect on other specialities and ultimately their closure.”

The OCCG said: “It was felt release of the information would betray confidence and undermine and (sic) individuals that were involved in the voting exercise. It was also concluded that there was no public interest in knowing how individuals had voted.”