AN independent review into the decision to downgrade maternity services at the Horton General Hospital in Banbury has criticised Oxfordshire health bosses for the way a public consultation was handled.

Last year Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) decided to permanently downgrade the unit at the Banbury hospital from consultant led to midwife-led as part of phase one of its Transformation Plan.

The Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP) said the public consultation process ‘fell short’ while the decision by the CCG to split the overhaul of local health services into two phases had led to 'confusion and suspicion'.

The panel has recommended that more work is now undertaken before a final decision on the future of the maternity services at the Horton is made.

The IRP – the independent expert on NHS service change – agreed to examine the case after it was referred to Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt by Oxfordshire’s Joint Health and Overview Scrutiny Committee (JHOSC).

'Confusion and suspicion' 

In its review, published today, the IRP said: “Splitting the consultation in the way that was done has added more to the confusion and suspicion than helped move matters forwards.

“In the panel’s view, decisions about the future of obstetrics at the Horton must inevitably influence proposals that remain to be consulted on, including around the future provision of MLUs in Oxfordshire.”

The panel also said that all stakeholders should feel they have been involved in the process adding: “If this was not true of the past, the CCG must ensure that it is so moving forward.”

'Time to start again'

North Oxfordshire MP Victoria Prentis said it was a 'huge relief' to hear the IRP's conclusion.

She added: "It has been a profoundly difficult situation for all of us who use the Horton, particularly for those who have been affected by the closure of the obstetric unit.

"The IRP’s conclusion that further work needs to be undertaken comes as a huge relief and is recognition of what many of us have been saying repeatedly since the flawed consultation process began.

"It is time for us to draw a line under the past two years.

"We need to start again with a blank sheet, and work together to focus on a real vision for the future of healthcare in Oxfordshire."

Oxfordshire county councillor Arash Fatemian, who chairs JHOSC, said he was 'proud' of the committee's work and said the process will now 'start over again'.

'Anger and frustration'

In a statement posted on Mrs Prentis's website, Mr Fatemian added: "The IRP’s report vindicates the anger and frustration which has been felt across our community for almost two years.

"It has been a difficult and uncertain time and while the IRP has not put forward an immediate solution, a restart of the consultation process will afford us the opportunity to have our voices genuinely heard.

“We should not be daunted by going back to the drawing board nor should this be considered by the community as a step backward.

"It is an opportunity for us to revive our united front and fight our corner.

"We will leave no stone unturned to get the best outcome for residents of Banbury and surrounding areas.”


Doctors were moved from the maternity unit at the Banbury hospital in 2016, supposedly on a temporary basis. 

The CCG resolved to make that permanent in August last year in a move that was fiercely opposed by campaign groups (pictured), local MPs and councils.

The move means mothers who are considered to have a high-risk pregnancy have to travel to Oxford to give birth.

The IRP said any option eventually taken should demonstrate that it is 'the most desirable for maternity services across Oxfordshire and all those who will need them in the future'.

Mr Hunt has accepted the panel’s advice and suggested that a joint overview and scrutiny committee which spans the Horton’s catchment area and covers all the local authorities is set up to monitor progress going forward.

Last week CCG bosses said they will ‘learn from experience’ and approach any further changes under the transformation plan in a ‘very different way’.