South Northants challenges hospital consultation

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A legal challenge has been launched by South Northamptonshire Council and its partners following a "confusing and flawed" consultation process regarding plans to downgrade key services at Banbury's Horton General Hospital.

Today (Thursday) an application was filed for a judicial review into how Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (OCCG) has consulted with the public over changes to services including maternity, critical care and hospital bed use.

The challenge is on behalf of Cherwell District Council, South Northamptonshire Council, Stratford-on-Avon District Council and Banbury Town Council as co-claimants and with support from the Keep the Horton General campaign group.

Ian Davies, interim joint chief executive of Cherwell and South Northamptonshire Councils, said: "Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group has carried out a two-phase consultation into plans to downgrade key services at the Horton General Hospital. This approach has proved incredibly confusing and those who will be most affected by any changes namely the residents of Banbury  and surrounding areas are still unsure as to exactly what is happening to their local hospital.

"For over two months we have struggled to help local people understand the implications of what is being consulted on and we have tried to answer the real concerns of real people. But there is still widespread confusion. We know the Horton General Hospital is a very valued and accessible hospital to many residents of South Northamptonshire who regard it as their "local" hospital of choice.

"These proposals have significant and permanent implications for future access to local services. Therefore we consider it entirely unacceptable that the OCCG is trying to move ahead with plans which have not been fully understood by those who will suffer the consequences."

The OCCG is consulting on five key proposals which include taking all of the most serious critical care patients and all stroke cases directly to Oxford. The consultation also proposes changing the way hospital beds are used and permanently closing almost 200 beds between the Horton and Oxford Hospitals.

A key aspect of the changes would involve changes to the maternity unit and replacing a consultant-led service with only midwives. This would mean there would be no doctors or opportunity for epidural relief which means 90 per cent of mothers will have to travel to Oxford or other hospitals.

The only proposal which would increase availability at the Horton would relate to planned care services. These are procedures and treatments which are not carried out in an emergency but are planned in advance, such as outpatient appointments, elective surgery and diagnostic activities and are welcomed with the right investment.

Having now submitted the judicial review, we will wait to hear if the case will proceed to the High Court for consideration. A decision on this is expected next month.