Horton midwife feared maternity downgrade could cost lives

The Horton General Hospital maternity ward
The Horton General Hospital maternity ward

Hospital managers were warned by a senior Horton midwife that lives could be lost if they downgraded the Banbury maternity unit.

The midwife – backed by others in the team – feared serious consequences from the decision. The written challenges were made in 2016, days before the OUH Board officially approved replacing Horton obstetrics with a midwife-only service.

The letters, given to Keep the Horton General (KTHG), have now been passed to the Horton Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HHOSC) which is reviewing evidence used to centralise obstetrics at Oxford.

The midwife, who resigned before the downgrade, said swapping a full team of midwives, doctors and special care baby unit (SCBU) nurses for a single midwife and assistant was ‘beyond negligent and beyond the professional comprehension’ of staff.

She accused the OUH of failing to recruit doctors in order to close the obstetric unit and said staff were scared to speak out.

A spokeswoman for the OUH said since 2016 the trust “had run a successful mid-wifery led unit” and it would respond to views raised at the HHOSC meeting.

In the 2016 letter, the midwife stated: “I fully understand why my colleagues are applying for jobs at Warwick, Coventry and Milton Keynes rather than remain in a trust so hell-bent on putting women and their families second to saving money,” she told governors.

“We all believe the consultant-led unit is under threat of becoming a midwife-led unit due to the failure of OUH to ensure timely and adequate safe staffing of obstetricians.”

She said midwives were too scared to speak out, which she warned could have ‘potentially devastating’ consequences.

She said the ‘long-standing culture of fear of reprisal (and) a fear to speak up contradicts everything we should have learned from the failings in other trusts’.

“Do you really want the next major report to be connected to a bullying culture untouched in an OUH hospital within your control – a culture you have been made aware of?” she wrote.

Sara Randall, acting director of clinical services, said: “I understand these letters were submitted at the time of the original closure of the unit.

“Since that time the trust has run a successful midwifery-led unit at the Horton General Hospital with good outcomes for mothers and babies.

“Along with Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, we will be listening to the views expressed to the Horton HOSC and responding.”

Next Wednesday’s meeting of the Horton HOSC takes place at Banbury Town Hall between 10am and 4pm. Councillors will hear from women who have given birth at the Horton and JR since the downgrade in October 2016.

It is understood that some have given distressing accounts to a KTHG dossier detailing the problems associated with distance, travel and lack of sufficient staff at the JR, Oxford.

It is believed some women have complained to the trust in ‘afterthoughts’ meetings.