On 3 October 2016, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (OUHFT) put in place contingency plans that turned the consultant-led maternity department at the Horton into a midwife-led unit (MLU). This was because, during the summer of 2016, the Trust had failed to recruit a sufficient number of obstetricians to keep the consultant-led unit operable. I immediately wrote to the Chief Executive of the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (see letter here) to highlight constituents’ concerns.
There is, of course, nothing unsafe about MLUs as long as labouring mothers can be easily transferred to consultant-led units if complications occur. In the case of the Horton, the nearest consultant-led maternity unit is at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. Even by blue-light ambulance, the average time taken to get from the Horton to the John Radcliffe is between 30 and 45 minutes, a time in excess of NICE guidelines for emergency caesareans. It is therefore my contention that downgrading maternity services at the Horton is ultimately unsafe.
Along with Victoria Prentis MP (Banbury), and other MPs whose constituents use the Horton, I sought to put pressure on the OUHFT to account for the clear risks and ramifications associated with downgrading the Horton’s maternity unit. Our letter can be read here. These risks included the potentially dangerous transfer time between the Horton and the John Radcliffe, and the pressures that could have been put on other hospitals (such as Warwick and the John Radcliffe) should mothers in Stratford-on-Avon decide they would like to deliver at a consultant-led unit from the outset.
In January 2017 the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group announced the beginning of its consultation process for its ‘Sustainability and Transformation Plan’, the CCG’s long-term strategy for NHS services in Oxfordshire. Along with other affected MPs, I had considerable concerns about the CCG’s proposals within the consultation (including making the Horton maternity downgrade permanent) and the two-phase manner in which the consultation was being conducted. The statement I made at the time can be read here. Jeremy Wright MP and I wrote a joint response to this consultation with further details of our concerns and it can be read here.
In February 2017, it was announced that the decision on whether to permanently suspend obstetric services at the Horton would be referred the then Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt. I, along with Victoria Prentis MP, Robert Courts MP (Witney) and Andrea Leadsom MP (South Northamptonshire), supported this referral and we wrote to the Secretary of State to express our desire to see consultant-led services continue at the Horton. The letter can be read here.
Despite this referral to the Secretary of State, and despite the vehement responses to the consultation made by myself, other MPs and members of the public, the Board of Oxfordshire CCG decided to press ahead with the permanent downgrade of the Horton’s maternity services in August 2017. This was completely unacceptable in my view and I immediately wrote a joint letter to the Board urging them to delay making any decisions until all referrals, including an appeal for a judicial review, had run their course. The letter can be read here .
The Secretary of State decided to ask for advice from the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP), the independent expert on changes to NHS services. The IRP’s advice was published on 7th March 2018 and recommended that the decision to downgrade the Horton’s maternity services should be reviewed. The Board of Oxfordshire CCG agreed to this in a meeting on 29th March 2018. This was a significant victory for all those campaigning to retain obstetric-led services at the Horton.
For the moment, obstetric-led maternity services remain temporarily suspended at the Horton. However a ‘Super’ Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HOSC), which includes a representative from Warwickshire County Council, has now been established to oversee the Board’s progress with the review and to hold it to account. I am therefore confident that progress can be made on reversing this suspension and I stand ready to assist in any way I can, as do fellow local MPs, just as I have done over the last three years.