THOUSANDS of impassioned people took to the streets this weekend to protest planned maternity cuts at the Horton General Hospital.

Mums and dads joined hands with campaigners, councillors and the local MP around the site in Oxford Road, Banbury on Saturday.

The demonstration was hurriedly planned last month by the 12,000-strong Save Our Horton campaign after Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust announced the unit could become midwife-led in September due to staffing issues, meaning expectant mothers facing complications would be shuttled to the John Radcliffe.

Victoria Prentis, the MP for Banbury who along with many protestors was herself born at the Horton, helped organise the event.

She said: "We ran a very successful 'Hands Around the Horton' event eight years ago when acute services and wanted to recreate it. 

"I'm glad to say we have never had this many people. They know that they need this hospital now more than ever as the Banbury area is growing day by day."

Among those present was Eleanor Lloyd, 36, from Tadmarton, whose baby daughter Scarlett was born at the Horton just 10 days ago by emergency caesarean.

She said: "If I had gone to the JR it would have been horrible. They were worried about her heart and it would have been pretty stressful."

Banbury resident Lucy Goldner, 29, brought her four-year-old daughter Sophie and son Thomas, aged 11 months, along to the protest.

She said: "If I'd had to go to the JR I would have given birth in the car. The Horton means a lot to my family and we want to save it."

After the event a crowd converged on the town centre, with roads briefly closed for a final rally in front of Banbury Town Hall.

Members of the town, district and county councils also walked alongside their constituents.

Tony Ilott, who sits on Banbury Town and Cherwell District Councils, said: "It always amazes me the number of people that come out from all walks of life. 

"It almost turns into a carnival, with the bands and people on stilts and music, but we must not lost sight of the fact that we must keep the Horton with all of its facilities."

The present crisis at the Horton has come about due to a lack of middle-grade obstetric doctors, with just three out of eight posts set to be filled in September.

Bosses at OUH will meet on Wednesday, August 31 to make a decision on how to move forward if no more doctors have been recruited.

Chief executive Dr Bruno Holthof told the Oxford Mail last week that the proposals are a "contingency plan", adding: "If you do not have enough doctors, it is not safe to run an obstetrics unit. 

"Our only concern on this matter is the safety of pregnant women and their babies – there are no other concerns."