LAWYERS from NHS England will be drafted in to mediate in a row over the future of an Oxfordshire town's only hospital.

Members of the county's health scrutiny committee have taken the step over Wantage Community Hospital after Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (OCCG) and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust – the hospital owners – claimed council elections next May would delay a decision on re-opening the facility’s in-patient beds.

Councillors on the Health and Overview Scrutiny Committee (HOSC), which is tasked with holding the county’s health organisations to account, said they would be seeking legal advice after the CCG revealed a decision may now not be made until the end of next year – more than three years after the ‘temporary’ closure.

Speaking at a recent meeting of the HOSC, chairman, Arash Fatemian, said the HOSC was ‘not prepared to sign off’ on the process.

He said: “I am keen there is no further delay.

“We want you to come back with a shorter time table.

"I would really like the legal officer from NHS England here because frankly, I’m becoming fed up with purdah being used as an excuse."

He added: "I believe it’s being unfairly used to elongate timescales."

Purdah refers to the time period leading up to elections which prevents central and local government from making announcements which could be seen to give an advantage to any candidates or parties in the forthcoming election.

CCG chief executive Louise Patten explained the organisation had been given legal advice to say work on the public engagement programme would have to halt during purdah.

Mr Fatemian responded: “I think NHS England will take a very different interpretation of this.”

The hospital’s last in-patient beds were ‘temporarily’ closed down in July 2016 by Oxford Health because, it said, the outdated plumbing system created a risk of a Legionella outbreak.

More than two years later, however, and despite being ordered by a public committee to speed up the process, OCCG and Oxford Health (which runs the hospital) say they will not consider re-opening the hospital until the public engagement process has been completed.

The next meeting of the Oxfordshire Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee is now due to be held in February.