NHS bosses downgrade Horton hospital maternity unit

Rally at Horton Hospital
Image caption Campaigners have led a series of protests against plans to downgrade maternity services

A controversial plan to temporarily downgrade a hospital's maternity service because of a shortage of doctors has been approved by a trust.

The unit at Banbury's Horton General Hospital will be midwife-led, rather than consultant-led, from October.

Health bosses admit they could face a judicial review over the decision, which they say has been taken in the interests of patient safety.

Campaigners say they do not believe the existing service will be reinstated.

Legal warning

Dame Fiona Caldicott, chair of Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (OUHT), said the board had received a warning from solicitors about a possible legal challenge.

Hospital bosses revealed in June they might have to downgrade services because they were unable to recruit enough obstetricians to provide a "safe and effective service" from the end of September. Specialist services will be transferred to Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital.

However, campaigners said lives of mothers and babies would be put at risk.

Banbury MP Victoria Prentis called the plan "terrifying", and led a demonstration which drew thousands of protesters.

A petition with 17,000 signatures against the plan was delivered to the meeting earlier. The board said the decision was "temporary" while efforts were made to recruit more doctors - with a review due in December.

Image copyright OUH
Image caption Horton General Hospital 's maternity unit will be midwife-led until enough doctors are recruited

Medical director Dr Tony Berendt said: "This temporary change is in response to an immediate patient safety issue that will hit us at the start of October and to which we must respond appropriately.

"We made the very difficult decision... due to repeated difficulties in recruiting middle-grade doctors to staff that service safely and effectively."

But Keith Strangwood, chairman of the Keep the Horton General group, said he was "astonished, amazed and disappointed".

"It was the only decision they could make, but they need to look into why we have this staffing situation," he said.

"I don't believe this will be a temporary decision. I think they will just push this through."

He said the fight was not over and promised more protests.

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