The ghastly spectre of Banburyshire becoming a hotspot for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties because of the loss of full maternity at the Horton, was raised at a meeting on the unit's future yesterday (Thursday).
Speaking at the Horton Health Overview and Scrutiny (HHOSC) meeting, Cllr Kieron Mallon faced hospital and funding bosses with statistics about the effects of maternal anxiety on their unborn babies. He said 97 per cent of mothers in this area asked, said they would like to have their babies at the Horton but only a fraction could.
Information given to HHOSC showed anxiety causes a third of women to suffer anxiety, much of which is due to trying to decide if they could risk using the midwife-only unit at the Horton in case complications developed in labour, necessitating a blue light transfer to the obstetric unit in Oxford.
"The effects of mothers' anxiety in pregnancy on the child include foetal development, cognitive performance, social and emotional processing, language development and is strongly linked with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD)," said Mr Mallon who also referred to the stress and trauma suffered by mothers during labour and delivery.
He asked if the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust (OUH) and Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (OCCG) had factored these risks and the subsequent costs to the NHS in to their assessment of downgrading consequences.
"By giving mothers 'Hobson's Choice' of the JR or nowhere, are we building up a ticking time-bomb where in this area we could have problems with children right up to their teenage years because of decisions being taken?" he said.
Meghana Pandit, OUH medical director, said: "We recognise that women can be worried and anxious during pregnancy. And we recognise that uncertainty over what maternity services here will look like at the point that a woman might wish to give birth as well as the normal processes are natural. In addition we recognise that women will have anxieties about planning their labour and the place of birth and travel to that place. These are issues midwives and doctors are used to discussing with them both in labour and post-natally. We do give them any advice to alleviate any fears they may have.
"The findings of the survey undertaken do show that women in the Horton catchment do indicate higher levels of anxiety. For all other points of the journey they (levels of anxiety) were similar in all district council areas. But one of the actions we will take to enhance the service is to offer directly to provide more support to women in making their choice by providing joined-up information."
Cllr Mallon said that in the same way Post Traumatic Stress Disorder had only recently been recognised as a result of stress in the armed forces, the consequences of anxiety on foetal development - mental, learning, behavioural and emotional problems may be a 'discovery' of the future.
Ms Pandit said the trust would expand the offer of mental health services, not solely because of the issue of the CCG Board possibly confirming the permanent downgrade of Horton maternity next week but because in current times there are various levels of reasons for stress in pregnant women and their partners.
The meeting included a long discussion on a paper by OCCG to its Board recommending members make permanent the closure of the obstetric unit at the Horton, and its replacement with a midwife-only unit. CCG members assured the HHOSC meeting the £356,000-a-year dedicated ambulance would remain in place for transfers of women developing complications in childbirth to the JR, Oxford.
A report on chairman Cllr Arash Fatemian's report on the paper can be seen here and the report on last night's decision to refer the matter back to the Health Secretary, if the Board confirms the recommendation can be seen here.