Campaigners have demanded public consultation into the downgrade of the Horton Hospital is halted.
The call comes after a decision was made to refer the temporary closure of the hospital’s consultant-led maternity unit to the secretary of state for health, Jeremy Hunt, by members of the joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HOSC) last Thursday.
The first phase of the consultation on the Oxfordshire Transformation Plan (OTP), which will see the reorganisation of health services in the county, including the downgrading of the Horton, is under way.
But pressure group Oxfordshire Keep Our NHS Public says HOSC’s recent referral has made the consultation ‘meaningless’.
The Oxford University Hospitals Trust’s decision to make the unit midwife-led is separate from current plans outlined in the OTP.
The group said: “The secretary of state may still decide the Horton maternity unit should retain full obstetric cover.
“This would have a fundamental affect on the whole Transformation Plan including the Oxford hospitals.
“A new single-phase open consultation should start after a new plan emerges when the Horton situation has been resolved.”
HOSC’s decision has been praised by campaigners and MPs. The secretary of state can send the decision to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel to make a judgement.
MP for north Oxfordshire, Victoria Prentis said: “HOSC’s decision is a major breakthrough for all of us who have been campaigning hard against the downgrade. The cross-party nature of this campaign is apparent in the unanimity shown.
“It will be interesting to see how the decision to refer will impact the Oxfordshire Transformation Programme split consultation exercise which is ongoing, and about which I continue to have grave concerns. The fight continues, but I am confident the secretary of state will take this issue very seriously.”
MP for Witney, Robert Courts, said: “My constituents in west Oxfordshire would face horrendous travel times if this important service were to close. If expectant mothers have to travel to Oxford or further for treatment I would be seriously concerned about the impact on their health.”
Sean Woodcock, leader of the Labour group at Cherwell District Council said: “In 2008, it was referred to the then secretary of state, Alan Johnson who made the correct decision to retain services at the Horton. We can now hope that history repeats itself and that Jeremy Hunt will make the right call for the people of Banbury and beyond.”