Following a two day hearing earlier this month, High Court Judge Mr Justice Mostyn today announced his decision to dismiss the Judicial Review which had been brought against the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (OCCG) by Cherwell District Council, with support from South Northamptonshire Council, Stratford-on-Avon District Council and Banbury Town Council. The Councils launched the legal challenge having consistently argued that the OCCG's recent healthcare consultation on plans to downgrade services at Banbury's Horton General Hospital was inadequate and confusing for residents who wanted to have their say.
Local campaign group Keep the Horton General also supported the challenge.
Speaking after the judgement was declared, Leader of Cherwell District Council Barry Wood said: “Cherwell District Council is bitterly disappointed by the judgement from our legal challenge. The council is very aware of the significant concern of local people about the withdrawal of acute services at our local hospital and felt that a legal challenge was an appropriate action to take to reflect the extent of that concern.”
The Clinical Commissioning Group had been consulting on plans to replace a consultant-led maternity service in Banbury with a unit run only by midwives. It also included proposals to take the most serious critical care patients and all stroke cases directly to Oxford and the closure of almost 200 beds between the Horton and Oxford hospitals. The only proposal outlined which would increase care availability at the Horton related to planned care services including outpatient appointments, elective surgery and diagnostic activities. Despite widespread local opposition, including from Banbury MP Victoria Prentis, the CCG split the consultation into two parts meaning that residents did not have an overall picture of healthcare provision in Banburyshire area when responding.
Banbury Hardwick Councillor Tony Ilott, who joined campaigners at the Royal Courts of Justice, said: “While this result was deeply disappointing, the Council deserves credit for getting the hearing granted and for ensuring residents’ voices were heard at the highest platform.”
Victoria Prentis, Member of Parliament for Banbury added: “I was pleased to be able to attend Court at the beginning of the month to hear the proceedings. During the hearing, the CCG produced evidence which we had all been asking for since the consultation process began. It is deeply regrettable that it took legal proceedings for this to be made public, and it was this hard data that aided the CCG’s defence.
While Mr Justice Mostyn found against the four councils and the Keep the Horton General group, I was very interested to read his judgment. He was critical of the CCG’s consultation. Notably, in Paragraph 25 he states: “The conclusions I have reached thus far should not be taken to signify that I personally approve of the decision to split this consultation. It was said that the reason it was done in this way was because of the urgency of the matters covered by phase 1. But they were not urgent.”
The judgment has simply served to reinforce my profound discomfort about the way in which the CCG ran the consultation which has led to service downgrades at the Horton. I have written to the Secretary of State immediately, urging him to use the powers identified by Mr Justice Mostyn, which enable him to ask the CCG to rerun the consultation."