Questions on Horton downgrade still to be asked says Banburyshire committee chairman

Cllr Arash Fatemian and the Horton Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee at Thursday's meeting
Cllr Arash Fatemian and the Horton Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee at Thursday's meeting

The downgrade of the Horton's maternity unit has not been fully examined and should not be allowed through, the chairman of the Horton Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HHOSC) says.

Cllr Arash Fatemian wound up a long meeting on Thursday evening by telling senior hospital managers and funding chiefs that the review had been brought to an end by an arbitrary deadline and areas of scrutiny had 'not been exhausted'.

"The two areas there are still questions about are costs and the adequacy of the consultation," he said.

"I come back to the request by the IRP of (a decision) genuinely taking into account the views of the mothers and families. If the response from the OUH is 'we can't do this - no matter what you say, we can't do it, we can't agree to x, y or z', then what was the point of the consultation?

"This (permanent maternity downgrade) does not lead to an improved service; there are still issues of accessibility and choice. I remain unconvinced about the workforce issues."

"I fully accept the comments about workforce being priority one, two and three but I say that where there is a will, there is a way."

Mr Fatemian referred to recent successful recruitment excursions abroad and he said: "Even with all the negative connotations about the Horton you were able to recruit four people."

He questioned why the trust should be confident about being able to recruit for an extra 60,000 - 90,000 outpatient services at the Horton but not to staff a centre for 1,500 births.

Mr Fatemian said the OUH offer of a hotline for mothers in labour and prioritised parking spaces applied equally to mothers in the south of the county and should have been provided already.

"To couch them in any way as a response to the harrowing stories we heard at Christmas (from new mothers who had given birth at the JR) I think is wrong and did those mothers a disservice."The needs of the people have not changed since the arguments against downgrading, in the Independent Reconfiguration Panel judgement of 2008 still apply.

He said the trust has been talking about improving the Horton site for many years with no action and he felt it was necessary to maintain the HHOSC function to hold the trust and CCG to account.

Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust (OUH) insisted it had done all it could to recruit maternity doctors without sufficient success to staff the Horton which it had been forced to downgrade in 2016 for safety reasons.

CEO Dr Bruno Holthof told the meeting safety was the main driver over finance.

Cllr Kieron Mallon suggested the OUH was effectively vetoing renovation of the maternity unit - at an estimated cost of c£1.3 million - by telling the CCG Board it would cost £40m - £45m to demolish the unit and rebuild.

Louise Patten, chief of OCCG said the group had included south Warwickshire and south Northants in its recent work, as requested by the Health Secretary.

"This process we've been through, where we have been far more inclusive to those populations that don't naturally form the current NHS orders, has been a huge learning but for the Joint HOSC and for us and actually, I think that the work lays a very solid example of good working, good analysis, a strong methodology for reviewing what has been a very difficult, very complex set of issues around the Horton," she said.

"The whole NHS is looking at what local population healthcare needs are and what services should be provided to local people. That modelling is here to stay."

The HHOSC agreed to refer the matter back to the Health Secretary, should the OCCG Board confirm the recommendation to make the downgrade permanent.

The report giving OCCG's response to the Health Secretary - to be considered by its Board on September 26 with a recommendation of confirmation - can be seen here.