A WORD of caution has been issued after a senior judge ruled in favour of campaigners fighting to stop sweeping changes to the county's health service.

Tuesday was a day of celebration for campaigners and politicians, who were granted an official three-day hearing to challenge Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group's (CCG) 'transformation plans.'

But the chairman of watchdog Healthwatch Oxfordshire, Professor George Smith, has raised concerns about the impact this decision will have on the whole process.

He added: "This is a very complicated situation.

"We do not know at the moment if the CCG has any legal obligation to suspend making changes to healthcare while we wait for the outcome of the full hearing.

"What we also have to remember is that it was the downgrading of maternity services at the Horton General Hospital which was met with dissent.

"The other changes being proposed, for example centralising acute stroke services, seemed to be agreed upon."

Last month the CCG approved the first phase of healthcare plans, including centralising acute stroke services, more bed closures and the permanent downgrade of maternity services at the Horton General Hospital in Banbury to a midwife-led unit.

Professor Smith is concerned the legal proceedings might delay the implementation of changes that were relatively unchallenged during the consultation process.

He added: "Clinical evidence has shown that it is vital for stroke survivors to be taken to a high-tech unit where they can be assessed and treated quickly.

"This is far better than them being taken to a unit less well equipped or staffed and for them to have to go on again to another unit.

"Does this mean these changes will also be delayed?"

Cherwell District Council led the challenge, arguing that the consultation was inadequate, fundamentally flawed and confusing for people who wanted to have their say on the future of their healthcare.

Council leader, Barry Wood, said: "Tuesday’s decision is good news but it is by no means the end of the battle.

"We are very pleased that we shall have the opportunity to have our concerns and those of local residents heard by a judge at a proper hearing, and are resolved to do right for the areas we serve and continue our fight for a full judicial review.

"This ruling by Mr Justice Fraser runs in parallel with three referrals to the Health Secretary of the process and commissioner decisions so that every avenue of challenge to these hugely unpopular health changes is pursued."

It is hoped a date for the hearing will be settled before the end of the year.

Spokeswoman for the CCG Sue Boyce said: "We are currently seeking clarification on the implications for implementing phase one of the Oxfordshire transformation plan following permission being granted for a judicial review of the consultation yesterday.

"However, we have already assured Oxfordshire’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HOSC) that while its referral process to the Secretary of State is ongoing, no permanent changes will be made to the obstetric unit at the Horton.

"As there are still not enough middle grade doctors available, the temporary closure of obstetric services at the Horton will remain in place; the temporary midwife led unit will continue to run with the current staffing model and provision of a dedicated ambulance."