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Maternity unit puts babies at risk of harm, health regulator says


Babies are at risk of harm at a maternity unit judged to have "poor governance and ineffective systems", the health regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), says. 

The facility at Horton General Hospital in Banbury, Oxfordshire, has been told by the CQC that it must improve. 

It is the first time the unit has been graded in its own right since being downgraded to a midwife-led service, which prompted angry protests in 2017. 

Inspectors visited the ward, which had previously been evaluated only in conjunction with the gynaecology department, run by Oxford University Hospital (OUH) in October 2023.

CQC deputy director of secondary and specialist care, Carolyn Jenkinson, said: "When we inspected maternity services at Horton General Hospital we found a service with poor governance and ineffective systems and processes which meant women, people using the service and their babies could be put at risk of harm.

"A lack of oversight meant leaders weren't always able to identify issues or make improvements when issues were found".

She added that the CQC was also concerned that “safety equipment wasn't always checked regularly.” 

The downgrading of the unit in 2017 followed years of campaigning against the then-proposed changes, with an estimated 5,000 people encircling the hospital in protest about the downgrading of maternity services in 2015.

The report also criticised the maternity unit's "ineffective systems". The hospital was also downgraded from "good" to "requires improvement.

Chairman of Keep the Horton General campaign group, Keith Strangwood, said the CQC report was "saying what we've been saying for years". 

Director of midwifery at OUH, Milica Redfearn, said: "We are disappointed by this result, but we always welcome feedback on ways to improve our services and we will work with staff, women, and birthing people to make the improvements suggested."

Chief executive officer at OUH, Prof Meghana Pandit, said that "as a learning organisation we will improve services along the lines highlighted in the report. Although this new rating is a setback, we are immensely proud of our local hospital, the services it provides, and our wonderful staff."