Health secretary steps in over Horton maternity downgrade

Horton campaigners on a protest march in London NNL-171009-143423001
Horton campaigners on a protest march in London NNL-171009-143423001

The health secretary has agreed to refer the permanent downgrade of the Horton General Hospital maternity unit to the body which rescued it in 2008 for an initial assessment.

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Jeremy Hunt wrote to North Oxfordshire MP Victoria Prentis to confirm he would be asking the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP) to undertake the initial assessment before deciding whether it needs a full review.

Campaigners are pinning much hope on the IRP reversing Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group’s (OCCG) decision to permanently take away consultants from the Banbury maternity ward in August.

Keep the Horton General chairman Keith Strangwood said: “We are delighted by the secretary of state’s decision.

“George Parish and Tony Baldry fought such a hard battle 2006-8 to retain the full services of a district general hospital.

“We firmly believe the decision made by the IRP then will stand firm in 2018.”

OCCG resolved to make permanent the temporary suspension of consultant-led maternity at the Horton in August, prompting the joint health overview and scrutiny committee to refer the matter to the government.

Following the outcome of the judicial review hearing in December, Ms Prentis said she pressed upon the Department of Health the importance of moving forward, given widespread uncertainty about the future of the unit.

The secretary of state confirmed to the Banbury MP that the IRP would be asked to get involved yesterday (Wednesday, January 10), and drew upon the opposition of local councils and their responsibility to scrutinise decisions.

Ms Prentis said: “I am pleased that the secretary of state has agreed to pass the decision to the IRP for consideration.

“It is with regret that we find ourselves in a similar position to 2008, when the IRP were last asked to look at maternity provision at the Horton General Hospital.

“The IRP is the independent expert on NHS service change; it takes into account all available evidence in order to advise the secretary of state on contested proposals.

“I have no doubt that they will look at this matter properly, and am hopeful that they will agree to undertake a full investigation.”

In 2008, the IRP ruled that the then Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals Trust (now Oxford University Hospitals Trust) should not downgrade the Horton because Oxford was too far to transfer women in delivery, or seriously sick and injured patients.

Cherwell District Councillor Kieron Mallon added: “For those of us who were involved in 2008 we think it is right and proper for the secretary of state to refer this on.

“We are all hopeful that the IRP will investigate this fully as they did the previous referral.”

At its meeting last night (Wednesday), Keep the Horton General agreed to continue to explore its legal options after Cherwell council’s application for a judicial review into OCCG’s consultation was dismissed.

The campaign group will meet again next week.