Appointment of maternity doctors for the Horton stalled just as the Secretary of State called for a review of the unit’s closure.
Monday’s Horton Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HHOSC) heard that in May, 18 doctors applied for positions and four were shortlisted but the process was stopped because of ‘illness’.
Details provided by Oxford University Hospitals (OUH) showed in 2016 (the year the obstetric unit was downgraded) there were 48 applications, with 22 shortlisted and six doctors appointed.
In 2017, the year of consultation on making the closure permanent, there were 74 applications, 15 shortlisted and three appointed. This year there were 19 applications in March with three shortlisted and no job offers made.
All those who accepted jobs were put to work in Oxford.
Dr Veronica Miller, clinical director for women’s services at the OUH said there was a high attrition rate among obstetric doctors.
“It is a high pressure job... and it is difficult to attract people. We do manage it but there is a high attrition rate – they find it hard to keep up with the pace.”
Dr Miller said another challenge was to retain doctors leaving to advance their careers elsewhere. Those whose interviews had been delayed because of the illness in the recruitment process were still attending, she said.
Lay member Dr Keith Ruddle said it was ‘surreal’ to advertise Horton jobs and then tell applicants they must work at the JR.
“You’re saying the unit isn’t open but please still join. You’re asking people to take a Horton package but have to go and work at the JR.”
HHOSC chairman Cllr Arash Fatemian said after the meeting: “It was very enlightening to see applications have significantly increased but the numbers shortlisted have stayed the same, so the ratio of those shortlisted has gone down and that coincides with when the referral to the Secretary of State happened.
“It seems an extraordinary coincidence and it may well be just that but it’s an area we will want to explore further.”