THE hopes of thousands of campaigners were dashed yesterday as NHS bosses agreed to downgrade maternity services at Banbury’s Horton Hospital.
In a meeting at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital, the directors of Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust unanimously voted to “temporarily” reduce the service from a consultant-led unit to a midwife-led one.
This means that from October, expectant mothers deemed to be “high risk” will have to travel to the John Radcliffe to give birth.
The trust took the decision without any public consultation after struggling to fill seven vacant consultant posts at the unit, but said the downgrade would only last until March.
More than 17,000 people signed a petition against the move over fears the lengthy journey from Banbury to Oxford in an ambulance will put high-risk mothers at even higher risk.
As the decision was taken, a crowd of 200 erupted with cries of “how long is temporary?”.
Campaign leader Keith Strangwood said he felt “deflated” but added: “The fight goes on”.
He said: “The trust planners have pulled the wool over the eyes of the board of directors, the same as the people of North Oxfordshire.”
He said his group would now discuss whether they could mount a legal challenge.
In August, thousands of people took to the streets of Banbury to protest against the reduction in their local service.
Speaking after the vote yesterday, Banbury resident Jan Bennett, 52, said: “My youngest daughter had to be resuscitated at birth. It was a low-risk birth and she would have never made it to the JR.
“My middle daughter was taken in an ambulance at 9 o’clock at night with no traffic. It took 50 minutes.
“Someone is going to die in the back of an ambulance.”
Jessie Cuming, 22, gave birth to son Benjamin at the Horton 10 weeks ago because the John Radcliffe maternity unit was full.
She said her care at the Horton was “second to none”.
Banbury MP Victoria Prentis said yesterday she was worried by the decision and disappointed there had been no public consultation.
She went on: “I hope this is only a very short-term plan and maternity will return to a full consultant-led unit as soon as possible.
“Personally I am very worried about the contingency arrangements and will continue to put pressure on the trust for answers.”
At the meeting several board members raised concerns on the risks to mothers and babies in transit should a low-risk pregnancy have unexpected complications.
In response to those fears an ambulance and emergency care worker will be stationed at the Horton for transfers.
The new midwife-led unit will be staffed 24 hours a day and expectant mothers will uniquely be scanned at 36 weeks to identify last-minute complications.
Paul Brennan, clinical director at OUHFT, explained the difficulties recruiting staff at the Horton where just two out of nine obstetric posts will be filled by October.
He said: “While the Horton is providing an obstetric service it remains one of the smallest in England with 1,466 births last year.
“By October we will not have a middle-gear rota and, putting it plainly, an obstetrics service is a doctor-led service, and in my view it would not be safe.”
Chief executive Bruno Holthof said it was the trust’s responsibility to “turn over every stone” to ensure posts were filled.