THERE is renewed hope for the Horton hospital after an independent body promised to investigate the permanent downgrade of maternity services.

The hard-fought campaign to protect the Banbury hospital received a hammer blow at the end of last year when a judicial review ruled in favour of Oxfordshire Clinicial Commissioning Group (OCCG).

Cherwell District Council, with support from South Northamptonshire and Stratford-on-Avon district councils and Banbury Town Council, had accused OCCG of carrying out a flawed consultation on plans for the hospital.

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.

But now Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt has revealed the matter has been referred to the independent expert on NHS service change - the Independent Reconfiguration Panel - after a request from Banbury MP Victoria Prentis.

The panel will consider the issue and could launch a full investigation.

Doctors were moved from the maternity unit at the Banbury hospital in 2016, supposedly on a temporary basis. 

OCCG resolved to make that permanent in August last year and the county's Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee referred the matter to Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt.

This means it is run by midwives and resulted in mothers who are considered to have a high-risk pregnancy having to travel to Oxford to give birth.

Mrs Prentis said: "I am pleased that the Secretary of State has agreed to pass the decision to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel for consideration.

"It is with regret that we find ourselves in a similar position to 2008, when the IRP were last asked to look at maternity provision at the Horton General Hospital.

She added: "I have no doubt they will look at this matter properly, and am hopeful they will agree to undertake a full investigation."