Banbury and Bicester Council leaders submit an open letter to HOSC

Ahead of today's extraordinary meeting of the Joint Health Overview & Scrutiny Committee, local Council leaders have submitted the following open letter to the Committee. The letter was signed by Cherwell District Council Leader Barry Wood, jointly with Kieron Mallon and Richard Mould, leaders of Banbury and Bicester Town Councils. 

Monday 7 August 2017

An open letter to the members of Oxfordshire County Council’s Joint Health Overview & Scrutiny Committee.

Dear Councillors,

We write to you in advance of your meeting on Monday 7 August. We fully appreciate that with decisions excepted on 10 August from the Clinical Commissioning Group about the future of healthcare services in Oxfordshire that you will have a full Agenda, but we would be grateful if you could consider this letter as part of your discussions.

Since the decision to temporarily remove the consultant-led maternity service at the Horton General Hospital in October 2016 our Hospital has faced an uncertain future. This has caused much angst and anger in North Oxfordshire and the communities within the Horton’s catchment.

While we are pleased that local people had the opportunity to have their say in the recent consultation, we have serious misgivings about the way the consultation was conducted. There were major failings in the content of the document - proposals were made without substantive details – and opportunities to ask questions of the Trust and the CCG were limited with public meetings often held at inaccessible times.

Furthermore, by splitting the consultation into two parts, local residents were not presented with the full picture. We have previously expressed our disappointment that the OCCG made the decision to split the consultation due to the direct link between all healthcare services. Indeed, as we feared, the domino effect on Horton services including A&E, Paediatrics and Anaesthetists is now becoming clearer. The removal of obstetricians from the Horton site will have a direct impact on the viability of an anaesthetic rota being run at the Hospital. In avoiding any discussion on this to date, phase one of the consultation undeniably overlooks the true impact of healthcare reconfiguration in North Oxfordshire.

In 2008, the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP) concluded that downgrading acute service provision at the Horton, in particular, the transfer of obstetric maternity and paediatric provision, would not provide an accessible or improved service to the people of North Oxfordshire. Since that time, the geography of Oxfordshire has not changed but the population has increased and travel and accessibility to the JR has significantly worsened. We fail to see how the CCG’s current proposals offer an improved service to patients in the Horton catchment (including those patients from across the county border) or, and more crucially, a safe service. It is very unfortunate that we find ourselves in this position again, just a decade on from the IRP’s conclusions.

The strength of feeling in North Oxfordshire about proposals for the Horton could not be clearer. Indeed, in their own conclusions from phase one the CCG state: “there are almost universal concerns and a lack of support for the proposal to close the obstetric unit at the Horton General Hospital and replace it with a Midwife Led Unit”. Similarly, when concluding on emergency care provision the CCG finds: “In North Oxfordshire there is strong support for maintaining the Horton General Hospital as a district general hospital with full provision of urgent and emergency care.”

Regretfully, the failings of the consultation process have resulted in a real lack of trust between the decision-makers at the CCG and the public. For this to be restored we cannot envisage how the CCG can move forward with their proposals for the Horton without the whole exercise being exposed as unauthentic and ‘a tick in the box’. They simply cannot continue to repeatedly ignore the legitimate concerns raised by North Oxfordshire residents.

We understand that Victoria Prentis, Member of Parliament for the Banbury Constituency, has called for the CCG to pause any further discussion about the future of maternity services at the Horton General Hospital until the overall picture on local healthcare is clearer and until all options to recruit more obstetricians have been exhausted. We would like it on record that we fully support this and urge the CCG to halt making a permanent decision at this time. The safety of patients, particularly mothers and babies, must be the priority. 

The Health & Overview Scrutiny Committee faces a difficult task but one which is vitally important. We all want to act in the best interests of the residents of Oxfordshire. High-quality, accessible healthcare is something we all depend on. We do not believe that the CCG or Trust will take any decisions lightly but we must ensure the healthcare needs of patients across Oxfordshire are properly served and that changes to services are based on clear and robust evidence.

We would be most grateful if you could take our concerns into consideration in your deliberations and communication with the CCG.  

Yours sincerely,

Councillor Barry Wood, Leader of Cherwell District Council

Councillor Kieron Mallon, Leader of Banbury Town Council

Councillor Richard Mould, Leader of Bicester Town Council