• Oxfordshire health overview and scrutiny committee refers Horton General Hospital maternity downgrade to secretary of state
  • Committee chair told HSJ the referral was the “only solution” to the ongoing emergency downgrade four months ago
  • Oxfordshire CCG consulting on plans to make the downgrade permanent

The ongoing controversial decision to downgrade the maternity unit at Oxfordshire’s Horton General Hospital has been referred to Jeremy Hunt.

Yesterday Oxfordshire County Council’s health overview and scrutiny committee voted unanimously to ask the health secretary to review Oxford University Hospitals Foundation Trust’s decision to temporarily make its maternity unit midwife-led only.

Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group is now consulting on plans to make the downgrade permanent.

Chair of the committee, Yvonne Constance OBE, told HSJ: “We had allowed the [downgrade] to happen under emergency provisions four months ago and there was no sign whatsoever that they [Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group] would be resolving it. There were no alternative suggestions so really the only solution there was was to refer it [to Mr Hunt].

The Horton’s maternity unit was first downgraded four months ago from an obstetric service to a mid-wife led unit due to staffing concerns. Although originally announced as a temporary measure, the January board paper of Oxford University Hospitals FT said that the downgrade “will be retained beyond 5 March 2017” as it had only been able to recruit to five out of the nine obstetric posts needed. The board concluded that “on the grounds of patient safety the temporary suspension of obstetric and neonatal services at [the Horton] cannot be lifted”.

A spokeswoman for Oxford University Hospitals FT told HSJ: “We acknowledge the decision made by HOSC to refer the decision to the secretary of state and we will be liaising with HOSC to determine the next steps in this process.”

Oxfordshire CCG is planning to make the maternity downgrade permanent as part of its transformation plans. The commissioner intends to provide obstetric services at OUH’s flagship John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford with a midwife-led only unit retained at Horton.

However the plans are subject to public consultation and will also be reviewed in March by the same committee that made yesterday’s referral decision.

Oxfordshire CCG also wants the Horton to focus on elective surgery and diagnostics, to remove its intensive care unit provision, and to centralise acute stroke services at the Radcliffe.

Yesterday’s health committee also referred plans to close Deer Park surgery in Witney to the secretary of state after members decided closure amounted to a “substantive change”. However Oxfordshire CCG confirmed that it had already written to patients registered at the GP surgery to confirm its closure.