COUNCILLORS slammed a ‘lack of respect’ as they passed a vote of no confidence in health chiefs after the closure of Oxford's community hospital.

Oxfordshire County Council’s Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee agreed the motion against Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust yesterday, on the day patients were discharged from the City Community Hospital in Headington.

Trust bosses have now temporarily closed the 12-bed ward in the Churchill Hospital’s Fulbrook Centre until at least September on safety grounds, due to staff shortages.

But despite fears of closure first arising last summer, Oxford Health did not notify the committee of its decision until after a board meeting on May 8.

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Dominic Hardisty, deputy chief executive of Oxford Health, admitted communication had not been as good as it ‘could or should’ have been, but revealed the decision was held back over concerns staff would ‘vote with their feet’ and walk out.

But county councillor Liz Brighouse, whose Churchill & Lye Valley division includes the hospital, said she would 'not accept' this reasoning.

She said: “Many of the residents in my ward work on the Churchill site.

“I’ve not met one health professional who would vote with their feet.

“They’re working back to back shifts in a system we know has massive problems. It’s a mess.

"I can’t accept that they would vote with their feet.”

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Hilary Hibbert-Biles, of Chipping Norton division, added: “The lack of communication shows a lack of respect.”

Oxford Health announced they would temporarily shut inpatient services at the hospital earlier this month, due to Oxfordshire NHS’s long term staffing crisis.

The trust previously made ‘prior contact’ with the scrutiny committee last August, when it feared the hospital could close over winter.

Oxford Health monitored the situation ‘every six weeks’, according to Mr Hardisty, but committee chairman Arash Fatemain said the issue had been ‘managed rather than addressed’.

He added: “In light of the events that have transpired in the past and in particular, some of the decision-making, the committee doesn’t have confidence that there’s a proper understanding of the agreed working principles from Oxford Health.”

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Mr Hardisty admitted it was only the ‘extraordinary efforts’ of existing and agency staff that kept the hospital open, revealing some would work night and day shifts back to back.

But Pete McGrane, the trust’s clinical director, revealed they ‘had no option’ but to shut after three staff members revealed at the beginning of April that they planned to leave.

This would have left several shifts covered only by agency staff, with Mr McGrane explaining that the complexity of patients’ needs meant their ‘progression and decline’ could only be measured with continuity of care.

Trust bosses acknowledged the ‘unique challenge’ of attracting staff to the unit, thought to be because of the high cost of living and its relatively isolated site.

Mr McGrane added: “This gives us an opportunity to reconsider and work with partners across the system to make working here attractive.

“Staff are disappointed. Registered staff have rung us in tears saying the closure had reassured them as they didn’t have to worry about the safety of patients.”

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Four patients will transfer home, while the remainder will be split between hospitals in Abingdon and Witney where more beds will open.

Mr McGrane said the trust was ‘at pains’ to ensure patients were not discharged from the Fulbrook Centre prematurely.

But Rosalind Pearce, executive director of Healthwatch Oxfordshire, admitted she was concerned whether patients would get the ‘appropriate and safe amount of care’.

She said: “Community hospitals have a big place in the heart of the places they serve past and present.

“The time has come to sit down and work out what the role of community hospitals is.”