• Oxfordshire CCG agrees “temporary” maternity service downgrades at Horton General Hospital will remain in place
  • Some women in labour will have to travel up to 30 miles to John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford to see an obstetrician 
  • CCG chief Lou Patten says it was a “very difficult decision” to make 

Commissioners have extended the temporary closure of an obstetrics unit for the “foreseeable future” after difficulties staffing it.

Pregnant women living in North Oxfordshire will have to continue travelling up to 30 miles during labour to see an obstetrician after health chiefs agreed full maternity services should not be returned to a Banbury hospital this week.

Last Thursday, Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group agreed maternity service downgrades at the Horton General Hospital would remain in place “for the foreseeable future”.

Oxford University Hospitals Foundation Trust initially suspended doctor-led maternity services at the HGH in 2016 due to difficulties in attracting doctors to work at the unit.

A “temporary” midwife-led service was established, but this led to the closure of the hospital’s specialist baby unit and left John Radcliffe Hospital, 29 miles away in Headington, as the only doctor-led maternity unit in the county.

Now health chiefs have agreed the midwife-led unit will remain in place at HGH, while women from Banbury who need the support of a doctor during childbirth will have to travel to either Oxford or Warwick.

A ‘difficult decision’

OCCG chief executive Lou Patten said approving the downgrades was a “difficult decision to make”. She assured residents if service demand increases in the area, “the current arrangements would be reviewed”.

Ms Patten said: “This decision has been a difficult one and we understand the disappointment of all those who would like to see obstetrics return to Banbury.

“I would like to thank everyone who has been involved throughout this lengthy process.

“We have carried out a thorough and complicated piece of work to fully understand current and future demand for maternity services and have taken into consideration all of the information gathered during the process.

“This includes the results of the survey about women’s experiences of maternity services, information about expected population growth, workforce issues and travel and transport.

“It has been shown that the current service provides safe, effective services for women and babies and outcomes have improved for mothers and babies over the past three years with this arrangement in place.

“If circumstances change in the future, such as significant birth rate increases or demand for services is overtaking supply, the current arrangements would be reviewed.”

Complaints and concerns

Since 2016, the downgrades have prompted a raft of complaints from health campaigners and politicians concerned about the standard of care provided to expectant mothers and the increased demand on already stretched services at JRH.

In 2018, then health secretary Jeremy Hunt called for the decision to be reassessed after the Independent Reconfiguration Panel reviewed the consultation process and advised more options needed to be considered.

A series of other recommendations were also approved by the CCG, including:

  • Working with OUH on plans to improve families’ experience of maternity services, including an expansion of midwife-led services at HGH and a dedicated hotline to help women in labour to navigate the JRH site in an emergency;
  • Actively pursuing the need for “significant capital investment” at the HGH; and
  • Working with OUH on upgrade plans to HGH, including a “high quality flexible clinical space” that could be used for obstetric services “if circumstances demand”.