Maternity services at Horton Hospital facing downgrade

Keith Strangwood at The Horton General Hospital in Banbury. NNL-160706-143824009
Keith Strangwood at The Horton General Hospital in Banbury. NNL-160706-143824009

Banbury’s hospital faces downgrading of its maternity department as early as the start of September as managers look to move births to Oxford - converting offices to maternity wards at the JR.

The resignation of three middle grade doctors means the Horton Maternity Hospital is not safe, they say.

One Horton doctor has said other services would also be at risk because of the interdependence of departments.

The seriously worrying news was broken after Keep the Horton General (KTHG) campaigners attended a meeting about maternity on Wednesday night where they were told Oxford University Hospitals bosses were preparing to end consultant care by the first week in September. KTHG say the downgrade is timed precisely over the summer holiday period.

The group now believes paediatrics will follow closely and a controversial Horton downgrading plan that has gained huge criticism, will have been achieved without consultation or agreement.

Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust which runs the Horton released a statement today (Friday) explaining why it was taking the drastic measure.

KTHG says Banbury’s fast-growing catchment of 180,000 – 250,000 will be left without local acute hospital cover if the plan is allowed to continue.

Chairman Keith Strangwood said: “They announced that three Horton consultants had resigned - which is hardly surprising due the release of plans that would see their positions redundant. Who could blame them for leaving the sinking ship?

“We were told everything possible had been done to try and replace the consultants but without success and plans are being drawn up to transfer all north Oxfordshire births, except the very lowest risk mothers, to the JR Women’s Centre.

“Therefore the Horton will lose consultant-led maternity the first week in September if the positions can’t be filled.

“This is worrying and things are moving really fast. There will be no consultation period as the service is being removed for ‘safety’ reasons.

“Once the transfer goes ahead it would be hard to get the service reinstated at the Horton. One consultant at the meeting made it very clear that other services at the Horton will then be affected and lost.

“I also don’t think the three remaining Horton consultants will wait around to see what happens. They may also jump ship. Due to national shortage of such staff they would easily find placements.”

Mr Strangwood called on local councillors to form a cross party group to decide an urgent plan of action.

KTHG said interim measures include converting offices to maternity wards at the JR. Mr Strangwood said MP Victoria Prentis’s representative at the meeting has said she hopes the ‘changes are being considered as a contingency/absolute last resort, pending the outcome of their recruitment drive in the coming weeks’.

One former member of the maternity team said: “This hasn’t happened overnight. The trust was aware of the predicted October shortfall in doctors for a long time. This shows zero transparency yet again.

“There is absolutely no reason why the trust simply don’t add a weekly rota to the JR’s doctors’ rotas where they each come to the Horton for a week each. This way they recruit doctors to the JR, and send registrar grades on this weekly rota, negating the need to be concerned about training provision.

“They insist midwives rotate – there is no reason doctors should not. Apparently doctors have actually suggested this themselves but been ignored. Also for the right hourly rate you would easily attract locums.”

There are concerns over whether the JR can cope with extra workload as it frequently ‘borrows’ staff from the Horton to cover its own maternity department.

Staff at neighbouring hospitals claim the JR is scheduled to deal with up to 11,000 births a year, though managers claim they are dealing with only 7,000.

One report given this week said one mother at the Chipping Norton midwife unit she needed an Epidural painkilling procedure, was transferred to the JR where she waited for two hours unattended, and was transferred to the Horton where she received her epidural within 30 minutes.

KTHG is drawing up plans to challenge and protest against the end of the consultant-led Horton maternity unit.