Legal challenge over Horton downgrading consultation dismissed

The Keep the Horton General Legal team outside the court before this week's hearing began: Peter McLoughlin, Dr Peter Fisher, Keith Strangwood and Charlotte Bird NNL-170812-173746001
The Keep the Horton General Legal team outside the court before this week's hearing began: Peter McLoughlin, Dr Peter Fisher, Keith Strangwood and Charlotte Bird NNL-170812-173746001

The legal challenge over the consultation on the downgrading of the Horton General Hospital has been dismissed by a High Court judge today (Thursday, December 21).

High Court Judge Mr Justice Mostyn has dismiss a judicial review led by Cherwell District Council, which accused Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (OCCG) of carrying out a flawed and confusing consultation process.

Council leader Barry Wood said everyone involved with the challenge is ‘bitterly disappointed’ by the decision but will not stop fighting the changes.

“The council is very aware of the significant concern of local people about the withdrawal of acute services at our local hospital and felt that a legal challenge was an appropriate action to take to reflect the extent of that concern,” he said.

“Despite this, the council will not ‘rest on its laurels’ and will now focus its attention on the referral of the withdrawal of the obstetrics service to the Secretary of State for Health and his hopeful instruction to his specialist panel to review that decision.”

A council spokesman said the local authority does not plan to appeal the decision.

The challenge had been brought to London’s High Court by Cherwell council, with support from South Northamptonshire, Stratford-on-Avon District and Banbury Town councils acting as co-claimants.

Cherwell appealed six points relating to the two-phase consultation process led by OCCG, but all were dismissed by High Court Judge Mr Justice Mostyn.

South Northants council leader Ian McCord said: “Although the Horton General Hospital is in the Cherwell district, it is on our borders and serves thousands of our residents every year.

“Therefore supporting Cherwell in this challenge was absolutely the right thing to do on behalf of South Northamptonshire’s residents and medical providers whom will be affected by the decision to downgrade services.

“While it is fair to say we are dismayed with the result, we remain committed to working with Cherwell and other local authorities to ensure patients at the Horton Hospital receive the best possible care in light of ongoing threats to its services.”

Keep The Horton General campaigners had pinned a lot of hope on the prospect of a judicial review to halt OCCG’s plans for the Horton, as a second phase is expected to begin in the spring.

Chairman Keith Strangwood said they cannot comment until it has been signed off their legal team.

Banbury MP Victoria Prentis said: “The judgment has simply served to reinforce my profound discomfort about the way in which the CCG ran the consultation.

“I have written to the Secretary of State immediately, urging him to use the powers identified by Mr Justice Mostyn, which enable him to ask the CCG to rerun the consultation.”

The Conservative MP added it was ‘deeply regrettable’ that documents were only made public for the court hearing and not the actual consultation.

Labour Health Matters chairman Sue Edgar said: “We are devastated to hear about this result.

“So many people worked so hard to get this to court, and an excellent case was presented in favour of dismissing this terrible, mistaken consultation and the damage the proposed changes will do to vital local services.

“The next step, an appeal to the Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt, on the removal of the obstetrics service, will also have our full backing.

“It’s hard to be hopeful, as the appeal will be to a Minister of the government who created these policies.

“But he could refer it to his panel of experts and maybe then we’ll have a chance.

OCCG consulted on five key proposals which included taking all of the most serious critical care patients and all stroke cases directly to Oxford.

The consultation also proposed changing the way hospital beds are used and permanently closing almost 200 beds between the Horton and Oxford hospitals.

A key aspect of the changes would involve changes to the maternity unit and replacing a consultant-led service with only midwives.

OCCG chief executive David Smith said: “We are pleased the judge has made the decision in favour of Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group.

“His ruling has backed what we believe was a robust and well conducted consultation on proposals to make urgent changes to some Oxfordshire health services, based entirely on safety and quality of patient care.

“However, we are mindful that the campaign group and the district councils were unhappy with some aspects of the consultation and felt strongly enough to take legal action.

“We will take away useful lessons from this experience and our work with our communities in Oxfordshire and neighbouring areas will benefit from this learning in the future.”