The head of Oxfordshire's NHS says growth in Banburyshire means this week's refusal to return full maternity to the Horton is not 'permanent'
Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) CEO Louise Patten spoke to the Banbury Guardian in an interview after a meeting at which 11 out of 12 Board members voted to keep the downgraded midwife-only service at the Horton with full maternity being centralised in Oxford.
She paid tribute to the contribution Keep the Horton General had made in offering research and keeping local opinion at the forefront of the recent review of the downgrade. And she said the CCG would be tracking population and housing growth with local councillors.
The confirmation of the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust's 2016 downgrade of maternity because of a shortage of doctors came at the end of a year-long process of examination by a specially set up Banburyshire committee - the Horton Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HHOSC). That committee agreed to send the matter back to the Health Secretary if the CCG went ahead with the downgrade.
Ms Patton said: "We've had a lot of learning from this process, not just been about what we need to do but about working with the district councils and county councils to put together our housing projections and our growth. There is a difference between what the councils estimate the growth and rise in population is and the Office of National Statistics (ONS) survey. We will put that together and continue to work with them to get a realistic view.
"That's one of the key reasons why we have said that this is not a permanent closure. We recognise not only the significant amount of building going up in the north of the county but also potentially the ARC (Oxford to Cambridge link) development. So it was very important to us that we made that 'for the foreseeable future' decision today.
She said the calculations include the doubling of the size of Bicester and considerable growth in south Northants as well as Banbury.
"Our projections have in fact assumed some really, really severe-end worst case scenarios which are unlikely to happen but none the less were built into our planning. Most importantly we'll continue to look at that with our district and county councillors and local stakeholders. Local people often have more of an idea of who's moving in and whether they're young and perhaps wanting families or not so we can really enrich our local understanding of the area by talking to and involving local stakeholders."
With reference to the ongoing use of a £356k a year dedicated ambulance at the Horton midwife-only unit she said: "There's been no discussion about whether the dedicated ambulance should be for a fixed length of time or not. At this precise moment it's absolutely clear that ambulance will stay. I can't say any more than that other than it's not been considered in terms of whether it should have been removed. We've absolutely committed to that being ongoing on that site for the foreseeable future."
Ms Patten said the quality of the Horton midwife service would be monitored.
"Our quality committee at the CCG monitors maternity. It's a standing item on their committee (agenda). Prof Louise Wallace, who chairs that committee, wants to open that up to all (Oxfordshire) midwife-led units (MLU) and start to look at that wider experience across Oxfordshire and do that on a regular basis. That committee reports to the CCG governing body which puts that in the public domain."
Ms Patten said there are no plans at the moment to merge the three Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire CCGs although she accepted that was a 'general direction of travel'.
"The most important thing is the local commissioning function here will stay within Oxfordshire; the local accountability to people for things such as safeguarding will always stay here. So the changing face of integrated services is about providers and commissioners working together in Oxfordshire to deliver what's best for patients. So we will maintain significant focus in Oxfordshire around the Horton and all our other areas."
Asked if there would be a commissioning group for Oxfordshire Ms Patton said again it would be about commissioners and providers working together locally for the good of the people.
"It is an integrated care partnership," she said.
Asked how much influence Buckinghamshire and Berkshire would have on decisions affecting the Horton she said about the same as they have now which is very little.
"You've always got to look at your bigger strategy so when we look at our local maternity service our strategy always looks beyond Oxfordshire because it's sensible to map what's happening and it will be sensible for us to map South Warwickshire and what's happening there but generally the key decisions around the Horton and the services linked to the population health care needs will be taken locally by people in Oxfordshire."
Of the Banburyshire campaign group, Keep the Horton General, Ms Patten said: "In my opinion Keep the Horton have offered us some amazing insight into people's experience; they helped us with the small obstetric units' work, they have their finger on the pulse of local people and they have been hugely helpful in this process and we have every intention to continue to involve them and work with them in an open and transparent way."