Infant deaths ‘too high a price’ to drop Horton appeal

Keith Strangwood at The Horton General Hospital, Maternity Unit, in Banbury. NNL-160706-143901009
Keith Strangwood at The Horton General Hospital, Maternity Unit, in Banbury. NNL-160706-143901009

Banbury’s hospital campaign group, Keep the Horton General, says it will not drop its legal appeal against the process used to downgrade the town’s hospital.

Keith Strangwood, chairman of the group, told the stakeholders’ forum, CPN, the number of infant deaths in childbirth, if the closure of the Horton’s consultant maternity unit is not reversed, is too high a price to pay.

“There is no way we’ll drop our appeal,” he said.

Mr Strangwood said the neonatal death rate in obstetric and ‘alongside’ midwife units is 5.3 per 1000 births. For births at home, the same as a midwife-led unit, is 9.3 deaths, he said.

“If you equate that to the 8,500 births a year the (Oxford University Hospitals) trust carries out that’s an awful lot of possible neonatal deaths.

“I would not accept collateral damage of that amount, especially as Cherwell and the Horton will not have its consultant led unit.”

Mr Strangwood said if the appeal was successful not only might consultation be re-run, but Cherwell District Council would regain £90,000 it had spent on the 2017 legal action.

KTHG’s declaration came during a dispute over 90,000 outpatient appointments promised for the Horton while acute services were moved to Oxford.

The trust said the legal action was holding development up though this was denied by KTHG’s legal officer and questioned by MP Victoria Prentis.

OUH clinical director Paul Brennan said: “In order to achieve (the 90,000 outpatients figure) we’d have to build a new diagnostic and outpatient facility and at this stage we are not in a position to make any permanent changes whilst the legal action is outstanding.”

Mrs Prentis called for confirmation saying: “That doesn’t sound right to me.”

Mr Brennan said his legal advice was that no permanent changes should be made until the legal process had been exhausted.

KTHG’s legal lead, Peter McLoughlin said: “My understanding is anything that touches on the items on the appeal, beds (closures), obstetrics and the maternity unit, nothing must be done that is set in concrete. Other than that you can do what you like. It seems you’re sounding one out as hostage for the other.”

Mr Brennan offered to return to his legal team to ask for clarification.

Jenny Jones, for KTHG, described the Horton’s outpatient department as ‘like the Marie Celeste’ most afternoons.

“Even without a new building, without spending loads of money, the Horton outpatients is like the Marie Celeste on most afternoons. You have the capacity to put a bit more in there.”

Anita Higham reported that NHS England chief Simon Stevens had stated outpatients ‘as we’ve always known them’ are outdated.

“In what way does the OUH plan to respond to what Simon Stevens is saying? Is there going to be some massive thing from the top and what is the future for the Horton? I think it’s something we must take account of. Simon Stevens doesn’t just say things because he feels like it,” she said.

Mr Brennan said he believed Stevens was referring to alternatives including giving GPs direct access to consultants, negating the need for some appointments. He said there was discussion throughout the NHS and in Oxford as to whether the extent of follow-up appointments was beneficial. He said there was a push to reduce the number of follow-up outpatient appointments.

Mrs Higham questioned the number of 90,000 planned outpatient appointments capacity at the Horton in the light of the possible change in policies.