On Thursday 15 September, Oxfordshire’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HOSC) met to discuss healthcare provision in the county, including the recent decision to downgrade the Horton General Hospital’s maternity services to a midwife-only unit.

Unfortunately, Victoria had to be at Westminster so couldn’t attend the meeting. However, she requested that a statement be read on her behalf about the suspension of obstetric services at the Horton.

Victoria said: “I was very sorry not to make it to yesterday’s meeting, but was extremely grateful to HOSC for allowing me the opportunity to have a statement read on my behalf. It sounds as though the meeting provided an opportunity for Trust officials to be questioned by the Committee about the decision the Trust Board took over the summer. The Committee has the power to refer a health service change to the Secretary of State. I know that they will look closely at the further evidence they have requested from the Trust before deciding whether a referral is appropriate. I find it reassuring that HOSC are clearly taking their responsibilities very seriously and scrutinising the decision in detail. I look forward to hearing the outcome of the meeting at the end of September.

Please find below Victoria’s full statement to HOSC:

“I am really sorry I cannot be with you at this morning’s meeting. I am also sorry that we find ourselves having to discuss the future of the Horton again, just eight years since we were last here.

We are clearly in a crisis situation. Given that time is short, there are three points I would like to make.

Firstly, the decision to suspend obstetric services at the Horton was taken with no consultation at all.

My staff were made aware of the Oxford University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust’s plans at a meeting at the Horton on 20 July. We had been told the meeting would be to discuss the Transformation Project proposals relating to maternity provision at the hospital.

The Trust knew well in advance that I could not attend the meeting. However, at no point did anyone attempt to get in touch with me, as a courtesy, to forewarn me of their imminent announcement. No documentation was provided at the meeting on 20 July; and minutes were not taken.

You will appreciate that the Trust’s decision affects not only my constituents in North Oxfordshire, as well as those beyond my own Parliamentary constituency boundary. I know that colleagues including Andrea Leadsom, Nadhim Zahawi, John Bercow, Jeremy Wright and Chris White have all had concerned constituents contact them. The Cotswold Birthing Centre in David Cameron’s former constituency transfers fifty percent of emergency cases to the Horton. Yet at no point has the Trust got in touch with any of the other MPs to inform them of their plans.

Secondly, absolutely no effort has been made to engage with clinicians or the public. There is considerable bad faith locally; the feeling is that this has been done to the people, rather than on their behalf. This is exacerbated by a total lack of engagement. It was down to my office to coordinate a Q&A panel session and invited the Trust to participate. The consultants also feel excluded; as do the Banbury GPs – many of whose patients will now have to decide whether they give birth in the midwife only unit at the Horton, or make the 90 minute journey to the John Radcliffe. Together the GPs wrote to the Trust in advance of the extraordinary Board meeting to express their opposition to the proposals. Their letter echoed many of the concerns they expressed to the IRP in 2008: safety, sustainability and the reduction in access to basic health care and choice for their patients.

Thirdly, I am really concerned that the decision to suspend obstetric services is not evidence based. On numerous occasions, I have asked to see the risk assessments; it was not until I received the bundle of papers for the HOSC meeting that I saw one. I have grave concerns that, without controls and contingency plans, there are a number of “high risks” on the register, including the timeliness of transfer; impact on the JR’s maternity service; and retention of staff. I recognise that, without sufficient obstetricians the service is not safe. But similarly, transferring a mother who has encountered complications during or post-labour, when that transfer will take at least 45 minutes in an ambulance (not taking into account the time allowed to get that person into the ambulance and out of it at the other end), is extremely worrying.

I am genuinely fearful that lives will be lost. I ask HOSC to do everything in its powers to intervene and hold the Trust to account. I understand that when contingency plans are made there is no statutory consultation process, but this decision needs real scrutiny. The Trust’s actions should be referred to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel as a matter of urgency. At the same time, we need to ensure that the Trust remains under pressure to recruit, either by being more creative with its job offer or outsourcing responsibility to dedicated recruitment consultants. They have told us consistently that this will be a temporary suspension. If it is not, the domino effect will strike a fatal blow to the future provision of acute services at the Horton General Hospital. We need to do everything we can to ensure that a full obstetric service resumes in the New Year.”