HOPES of keeping maternity services at the Horton Hospital in Banbury have been dealt a blow after a High Court judge rejected an appeal to proposed cuts.

Cherwell District Council, with support from South Northamptonshire Council, Stratford-on-Avon District Council and Banbury Town Council, had accused Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) of carrying out a flawed consultation on the downgrade of services at the hospital.

But following a two-day hearing earlier this month, Mr Justice Mostyn dismissed the appeal yesterday but did say he could see why people were angry.

Cherwell leader Barry Wood said he was ‘bitterly disappointed’ by the decision but Banbury MP Victoria Prentis has said she will ask Jeremy Hunt to overturn the consultation anyway.

The consultation run by the CCG earlier this year, and approved in August, was carried out to reduce expenditure and reorganise health provision to meet Oxfordshire's changing needs.

The council had complained six issues included in the consultation were confused, but Mr Justice Mostyn threw out all of the concerns and said it had been completed legally. 

Proposals in the consultation included permanently closing 200 beds across the county and taking all of the most serious critical care cases, along with people who had suffered strokes, directly to Oxford.

Maternity services at the Banbury hospital were reduced last year, supposedly on a temporary basis, but the proposal also meant this move, which resulted in mothers who experience problems during pregnancy having to travel to Oxford, becomes permanent.

Ms Prentis said: "The judgment has simply served to reinforce my profound discomfort about the way in which the CCG ran the consultation. 

"I have written to the Secretary of State immediately, urging him to use the powers identified by Mr Justice Mostyn, which enable him to ask the CCG to rerun the consultation."

Mr Wood also said the fight was not over and would now focus purely on cuts to staff numbers in obstetrics, which Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has instructed a panel of experts to examine.

Mr Wood said: “The council is very aware of the significant concern of local people about the withdrawal of acute services at our local hospital and felt a legal challenge was an appropriate action to take to reflect the extent of that concern."

Yesterday David Smith, Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group chief executive, welcomed the decision of the judge. 

He said: “His ruling has backed what we believe was a robust and well conducted consultation on proposals to make urgent changes to some Oxfordshire health services, based entirely on safety and quality of patient care.

“However, we are mindful that the campaign group and the district councils were unhappy with some aspects of the consultation and felt strongly enough to take legal action.

"We will take away useful lessons from this experience and our work with our communities in Oxfordshire and neighbouring areas will benefit from this learning in the future.”

In August, Oxfordshire’s Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee agreed to support the proposals for the changes put forward in the consultation as well as the closure of the beds that had already taken place. 

But it was opposed to changes to the maternity services and referred them to the Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt. That should be complete within six months.