Councillors hearing evidence about the downgrade of the Horton ’s maternity unit are to invite leaders of other surviving small obstetric units to hear how they manage.
The Horton Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HHOSC), meeting last Thursday, said it wants to know more after Keep the Horton General (KTHG) campaign group produced research to show units with fewer births than the Horton’s were still operating well.
The KTHG report, conducted using Freedom of Information law, showed a number of hospital trusts with fewer than 2,200 births had retained consultant-led services.
Most were using ‘hybrid’ rotas - a mix of consultants and trainees with specialists on call - and had a number had training accreditation, enabling the trusts to recruit successfully.
The Horton lost its accreditation in 2012-13 because, it was claimed, its maternity unit was not busy enough to give junior doctors sufficient experience.
HHOSC heard Oxford University Hospitals Trust (OUH) had also looked at smaller units but its research had not been as wide as KTHG’s.
Jenny Jones, for KTHG, said: “The data backing up our report clearly shows how hybrid rotas are being made to work.”
Mrs Jones noted that Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group lay member Dr Louise Wallace (a former chief executive of the Horton) had suggested in 2017 the closure of the obstetric unit should be postponed pending investigation of using hybrid rotas. The suggestion was voted down.
OUH Director of Strategy Kathy Hall stressed the difficulty the trust experienced trying to recruit the necessary staff. Councillors suggested there had not been a problem recruiting before the Horton had lost its training accreditation. Cllr Kieron Mallon said Cherwell District Council had repeatedly offered to discuss availability of housing to key workers.
Mrs Jones highlighted small units with consultant-led units.
“In the case of Furness General Hospital and Lancaster Royal Infirmary it has resulted in Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology commendations for professional development in 2017 and standard of training in 2018,” she said.
“With the Furness birth rate at approximately 1100 and Lancaster at 1900 this refutes the claim that a birth rate of 3,500 is required to obtain training accreditation.”
The meeting was given the official results of a survey of mothers in Oxfordshire and Banburyshire who had given birth since the 2016 downgrade.
Cllr Arash Fatemien, chair of the HHOSC said: “Support is there for the Horton. The statistics from the survey show that 75 per cent of Cherwell reidents would have chosen to give birth at the Horton and that number is higher once you strip away areas of Cherwell that are towards Oxford - Kidlington, Water Eaton and so on.
“The figures show 97 per cent of the South Northamptonshire catchment and even 20 per cent of people living in West Oxfordshire who have given birth since 2016 would have chosen to have given birth at the Horton.
“To have an independent provider present that as verified truth lends scientific weight to t he argument for the Horton.
“The KTHG research will be very useful. I will pay tribute to all the work KTHG have done but until we hear from those units I can’t prejudge how much weight will be given to it.”
“I’ve got a bit more hope than I had previously.”