Banbury MP rebukes hospital trust for late denial of threat to Horton children's ward
Mrs Prentis was speaking after the Banbury Guardian followed up a message alerting the paper to an emergency meeting about the possibility of ending overnight care for children at the hospital. The MP had been copied into the paper's original request for clarification at 10.40pm on Monday night.
The Trust's rebuttal came at 3.45pm on Tuesday in spite of the request for immediate confirmation or denial of any such meeting 17 hours earlier. It arrived at the Banbury Guardian at 3.45pm, two hours after a story had been published online.
The press office statement said the Horton paediatric ward was not going to be downgraded but that the Trust was working to keep all services safe - with the right staffing - during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Repeated further questions - prompted by information sent to the Banbury Guardian - about staff shortages on the Horton paediatric ward, closure of beds and the current situation with regard to 'Open Access' (where children with chronic conditions can walk in for care without being referred by a GP) have still not been answered.
In a statement on her website, Mrs Prentis said: "I have spoken to the Trust and made it very clear that I thought yesterday (Tuesday) was not handled well. To hear rumours of a possible downgrade of paediatrics in the morning and to then wait all day for a rebuttal is simply not good enough. We need an open dialogue and immediate reassurance.
“During my conversation with the Trust I have been reassured once again that full paediatric services will continue at the Horton.
"As the Trust begins to prepare for the winter months ahead, it does seem reasonable for them to consider seasonal pressures alongside any localised resurgence of coronavirus. In planning for this, they need to keep all staffing options on the table.
"However, any rota changes would be temporary to cope with an emergency situation. It cannot be used as a way to force fundamental changes to how a service is delivered through the back door.
“I think it is perfectly reasonable for us all to be nervous about any suggested change to rotas at the Horton given our long history. We all bear the scars of our previous battles.
"At a meeting last Friday with elected representatives, our local health providers and the Keep the Horton General Campaign group, we discussed our vision for the future. We are determined to ensure the Horton can remain a fully-functioning local General Hospital fit to serve our growing community. To make that happen we will need to work together and be honest and open in our conversations. A clear and open line of communication is absolutely essential going forward.”
When asked why the Trust had not responded to the Banbury Guardian request, knowing a story was to be written imminently, the communications department said staff were extremely busy and were 'not always immediately available to assist with media enquiries'.
Charlotte Bird, press and publicity officer for Keep the Horton General said: " We have been assured on numerous occasions that we will enjoy clear and open communication with the trust and it doesn't seem to be happening. The OUH and the clinical commissioning group have said so many times in public meetings that they wish to re-build trust with the people of Banbury but how can we believe them when nothing has changed?"
The OUHFT's full statement on Tuesday said: "We are not downgrading paediatric services at the Horton General Hospital.
"As part of our continued response to the COVID-19 pandemic and our preparations for any future surges, we are working across the Trust to ensure that our services, including Paediatrics, are able to run safely, with the right staffing, social distancing, PPE, and processes in place to protect both staff and patients.
"In Paediatrics, across both the Horton General Hospital and the John Radcliffe, we are working to mitigate the new challenges that the pandemic has brought to the service and our medical and nursing staffing. Patient and staff safety is always at the forefront of our discussions, alongside ensuring quality of care and service continuity for our local population."