Horton maternity downgrade set to continue until next March

The Horton General Hospital, Maternity Unit,  Banbury.
The Horton General Hospital, Maternity Unit, Banbury.

Hospital bosses revealed yesterday (Thursday) they will not return consultant-led maternity to Banbury until at least March, 2017.

Managers suggest they still do not have sufficient middle grade doctors to make the consultant-led service at the Horton General Hospital safe, in spite of a number of recruitments made in the past two months.

As this week’s story in the Banbury Guardian makes clear, managers acknowledged last September they were suffering doctor shortages at Horton maternity but did not advertise for replacements until the end of April.

Information obtained by the Banbury Guardian via Freedom of Information showed the first advertisements were placed online and not in the British Medical Journal until August.

Pay scales and contract lengths were increased in line following complaints by local campaigners, midwives and other health professionals that the terms of the jobs would not attract recruits. They said the consequences for women having to access specialist delivery in Oxford, 25 miles from Banbury – or worse, be rushed by ambulance in an emergency - were unacceptable.

OUH spokesman Susan Brown said in a letter to stakeholders: “In late August, a decision was taken by the Trust to temporarily transfer obstetric-led maternity services from the Horton General Hospital to the John Radcliffe. The decision was taken when it became clear there would be too few obstetricians in post at the Horton to run a safe obstetric service.

“At the same time the Trust said it would review the recruitment situation in October to see if enough middle grade doctors had been recruited to allow the obstetric-led unit to re-open in January 2017. The unit requires nine middle grade doctors in post to run safely.

“Following this review, it is clear that it is not possible to reopen the obstetric-led unit in January 2017 as there will still not be sufficient doctors in post to run a safe obstetric service at the Horton from that date. Therefore the midwifery-led unit status will continue at the hospital until March 2017 and in the meantime we are making every effort to recruit the doctors required.”

The Horton’s current status as an inpatient, district general hospital could be under further threat through plans for ‘sustainability and transformation’ (STP) which are part of a government cost cutting drive to save £22 billion from the NHS budget by 2020.

STPs have to be submitted by the 44 new health regions (called ‘footprints’) today, Friday, to NHS England to show they have designed acceptable blueprints for cuts. Oxfordshire’s ‘savings’ or cuts, amount to £200m. If these are not found, the trusts will be denied ‘transformation’ grants and could be taken into special measures by the Department of Health.

The ‘transformation’ plan for Oxfordshire includes a full downgrade of the Horton General, as the town fought in 2006–08 when the Independent Reconfiguration Panel ordered health bosses to find ways to keep specialist care in Banbury since Oxford was too far. They found that transferring labouring mothers, injured patients or sick adults and children to the JR Hospital, Oxford would be unsafe and inhumane.

The STP plan will then be subject to three months of public consultation, from the end of December – which will end at the same time that the OUHT says it could return consultant-led maternity.

If the results of consultation do not convince managers, not only will obstetrics and SCBU not return, but the Horton will lose the 24-hour children’s ward and all other acute services.

Ways may be found to continue A&E temporarily, as suggested by OUHT chief, Dr Bruno Holthof in an interview with the Banbury Guardian this summer. But Dr Holthof’s ‘vision’ for the Horton is for it to become a day case, outpatient and diagnostic centre without inpatient care.

A Banburyshire stakeholders meeting today (Friday) takes place at Bodicote House at 2pm. Among those attending this Community Partnership Network meeting are the Post Graduate Dean, Michael Bannon, who is the sole official in Oxfordshire with the power to grant, or take away, specialist medical training posts from the Horton.

His rare presence makes Keep the Horton General campaigners fear he will be announcing another removal of training accreditation from Banbury, making it more difficult to staff the Horton and easier to downgrade the hospital.