Complacent Conservatives continue to deny the threat to Seaton Hospital

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Public protest meeting for Seaton Hospital, 2017

The complacent Conservative candidate for Seaton and Colyton, Marcus Hartnell, has posted his view of the future of Seaton Hospital on Facebook, repeating the slur about ‘scaremongering’ over its future. I’ve responded on the same page:

‘I welcome the fact that local Conservatives are addressing the future of Seaton Hospital – indeed I suspect my recent Seaton Nub News article may have spurred them to do so. Marcus is right that there is some common ground. We all want the hospital to continue to thrive, providing services to people from the Seaton area and beyond. I too support the Triangular Health Forum, chaired by my Independent colleague Jack Rowland.

‘Speculation and scaremongering’

However Marcus is wrong to criticise ‘speculation and scaremongering’. Seaton Hospital HAS definitely been at risk for the last four years. The removal of the beds left it officially 38 per cent empty. That was clearly not a viable long-term situation, especially since part of the remainder is the office suite of the Seaton, Axminster and Sidmouth community team – which clearly does not have to be based in Seaton. The Covid vaccination programme is hugely welcome, but unless it becomes permanent, it just postpones the day when the hospital is once again almost half-empty. 

‘There are no plans to build houses on it’, says Marcus. However his Conservative government handed the hospital over to NHS Property Services, a government-owned company charged with maximising revenue by selling off ‘surplus’ buildings. This company put 50 per cent of the Seaton Hospital site forward for building 14 houses. That offer is still on the table – NHS PS have not withdrawn it – in the review of housing capacity currently being discussed by EDDC. It is obvious that losing 50 per cent of the site would mean knocking down the hospital. These are simple facts, not scaremongering.

‘A positive and pragmatic approach’

Marcus prefers to ‘take a positive and pragmatic approach’. He says we must influence the decisions of the CCG. Well some of us have been trying to do that for the last 4 years. I tried to get them to introduce new services locally, like chemotherapy – but they sent it first to Honiton, then to Ottery St. Mary. They preferred to leave Seaton 38 per cent empty.

Marcus should know (but he failed to attend most of the committee meetings) that Seaton Area Health Matters, also chaired by Jack, has tried for over two years to interest NHS PS in selling the hospital to a community-based charity, to continue the existing NHS services and introduce a wider range of health and wellbeing activities. NHS PS have so far failed to engage seriously with this proposal. They prefer to keep their options open.

‘No powers to make decisions about the NHS’

Marcus says ‘a County Councillor has no powers to make decisions on NHS matters’. Not true. As a member of Devon County Council’s Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee, I was able to vote recently to use our legal power to refer the proposed closure of Teignmouth Community Hospital to the Secretary of State, for examination by the Independent Reconfiguration Panel, which could lead to saving the hospital. 

In 2017, members of the same Committee were able to vote on the same proposal concerning Seaton Hospital beds. It was the last option open to save them, and to secure the future of the hospital. Seven Tory councillors, four of them from East Devon, voted against this, thereby condemning our beds – and the hospital itself to the limbo it’s been in for 4 years now. So it isn’t that councillors have no powers. It’s that you can’t rely on Conservative councillors to use them for the benefit of their communities. 

Sharing services – you have been warned

Sharing health services across the Axe Valley is a good idea, provided that basic services are available in Seaton as well as Axminster. However the Teignmouth experience provides a warning. In that case, the CCG decided it was OK to move services to Dawlish. Many people in Teignmouth didn’t want to have to travel to Dawlish for services that used to be based in Teignmouth.

Unless we are wary, we’ll end up with everything being based in Axminster or Lyme, while NHS PS build their 14 houses on the Seaton Hospital site.Yes, we need to work collaboratively. But we need County Councillors who acknowledge worrying facts rather than trying to brush them under the carpet, and who are aware of the powers that they have and will use them to defend the local NHS – not capitulate because of misguided loyalty to a government which is forcing the CCG to make ever-greater cuts.’

Is this a spoof account? ‘Everywhere I go I see the police’, says Alison Hernandez as she finally turns up in Seaton: ‘Visibility has begun’.

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I don’t normally reproduce Conservative propaganda, but their local candidates Marcus Hartnell and Ian Hall must be squirming with embarrassment today after the police commissioner, Alison Hernandez – last spotted in Seaton in September 2016 (!) – turned up for election photo-ops with them.

The hapless Hernandez tweeted about her visit, ‘Everywhere I go I see the police’, and even continued, ‘Visibility has begun …’ . Let’s hope that this doesn’t mean that police were bused from all over Devon for a party-political event. Since the wider Seaton area has been reduced to one Police Constable and one Police Community Support Officer, it would have been simply impossible for her to have seen police ‘everywhere’ on a normal day.

Hernandez’ claims will be greeted with derision, if not anger, by people in the Colyford and Seaton Down Hill areas, who have been trying to get police enforcement of speed limits for years now. The police have been all but invisible locally throughout Hernandez’ term – time for her to go.

Axminster Conservative says I’m ‘scaremongering’, but he knows that Seaton Hospital has remained in limbo ever since his colleagues ditched our beds

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In a tweet responding to my Nub News article about NHS Property Services’ offering the Seaton Hospital site for housing development, Axminster Conservative candidate Ian Hall has accused me of ‘scaremongering’.

However Ian was present at County Hall three and a half years ago, when his Tory colleagues voted down our last chance to block the closure of Seaton’s beds – in the full knowledge that the CCG together with NHS Property Services, which owns all East Devon’s community hospitals, was preparing an ‘estates strategy’ to identify surplus sites to be sold off. He also knows that at the time, his Conservative government was offering incentives to NHS organisations to identify such sites.

So Ian should not be surprised that it has now emerged, via the Midweek Herald, that NHS Property Services offered our site for development and that this offer is even now being presented to EDDC’s Strategic Planning Committee as one of the options for meeting the excessive house-building targets which his Government has, on top of everything, imposed on East Devon.

Ian may not be worried that NHS PS were also offering up a quarter of the Axminster site, but I expect many of the people of Axminster, who like us in Seaton actually paid for their hospital, will have different ideas – and may well turn to Independent candidate Paul Hayward, who will actually stick up for them, instead.

in Seaton, where NHS PS put up half the site, everyone understands that if 14 houses are built, the Hospital will no longer exist. As I made clear in my article, there is no specific closure proposal. But the information confirms that we have been right all along to be alarmed. Perhaps if there is no scare, NHS Property Services will officially take the offer off the table?

Ian is right of course that we need to cooperate in a health plan for the Axe Valley, also involving Lyme Regis, with both Axminster and Seaton hospitals. But the Triangular Health Forum he mentions has hardly got off the ground despite years of intermittent talk. Meanwhile, until the vaccination programme, Seaton Hospital remained in limbo, almost half empty, still all too ripe for the asset-strippers.

Minister tells Neil Parish community hospitals should have a ‘central role’ – will he give the CCG the message and, more importantly, the funding?

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The Minister of State for Health, Edward Argar MP said in response to a question from Parish:

‘Community hospitals are a hugely valuable and valued part of our health and care system. As we have seen during the pandemic, they have played a vital role in providing intermediate care for patients not yet well enough to return home and play a much broader role year-in year-out to the communities they serve. While it is for local communities to make decisions on specific local services, we are clear that our community hospitals should continue to play a central role in healthcare provision for many years to come.’

NHS Property Services offered Seaton Hospital as a site for housing development – the threat to local services continues

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A new report shows Seaton Hospital’s owners, the government-owned company NHS Property Services, offered it as a possible site for housing development.

My Nub News article explains the context and the threat the community faces.

Photo: protest at County Hall in 2017 when the Conservatives on Devon Health Scrutiny Committee voted down an attempt to protect the hospital’s beds.

My campaign for a second term representing Seaton and Colyton on Devon County Council

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Four years ago you elected me to be the County Councillor for the Seaton and Colyton area. On May 6th, I’m asking you to support me for a second term. I’ve worked hard to improve things, supported many local causes and helped with people’s problems. I’ve helped push the County to complete the cycle route in the Wetlands, towards a policy of allowing 20 mph zones in town and village centres (if local people want them – councils are aiming for them in Seaton, Colyton, Colyford, Beer and Offwell), and to aim to become carbon-neutral by 2030.

I helped the Colyton community save its fire station, which means that our whole area has kept the two engines we need to keep safe. I’ve been working with the Wilmington and Offwell communities to tame speeding on the A35, and with Colyford people over the A3052. I’ve helped get some of the worst rural roads fixed, although underfunding and inefficiency mean that far too many problems remain.

Above all, however, you elected me to save Seaton Community Hospital. The cause is half won – we lost the beds, but our campaign stopped NHS managers from closing the hospital altogether. Now it’s got a new lease of life as a vaccination centre – but we need to get its long term future agreed.

Please vote for me on May 6th, so that I can finish the job.

Re-elect MARTIN SHAW, your INDEPENDENT East Devon Alliance County Councillor.

Outside Seaton Hospital, with my fellow East Devon Alliance INDEPENDENT councillors, Dan Ledger (left) and Jack Rowland

Health Scrutiny finally refers Teignmouth community hospital closure to Secretary of State, but some hardline Tories still opposed

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After voting down my proposal to refer Devon CCG’s proposals at the January Scrutiny meeting – in favour of seeking purely informal advice from the Independent Reconfiguration Panel which advises the Health Secretary on these issues – the Committee yesterday voted to refer, by 11 votes to 2.

The Panel had told them that informal advice would not be appropriate at this stage, and following overwhelmingly community pressure including the local MP, the Committee was left with little choice but to use its formal powers. Two hardline Tories, including Exmouth’s Richard Scott, nevertheless prevented the decision being unanimous.

In my contribution, I argued that these pre-pandemic proposals need to be reviewed in the light of the much greater health needs which we are now aware of.

In echoes of the Seaton and Honiton bed closures in 2017 – which Health Scrutiny refused to refer – campaigners emphasised that the community would be left without local intermediate care given the lack of even nursing homes in Teignmouth.

Join Thursday’s mass slow handclap in protest over insulting NHS 1% pay rise

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SOLIDARITY with NHS nurses, doctors and other staff who have risked their lives for us allonly to be fobbed off with a below-inflation rise. Story here (photo Daily Mirror).

Austerity is back, and the budget cut to the NHS is a warning to Devon

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Rishi Sunak’s budget envisages reductions in spending for public services, including the NHS, over the next few years, as well a return later in the year to the lower level of Universal Credit. By not raising tax thresholds, he increasing the real levels of income tax for most people, and by not addressing social care funding he is forcing councils to raise Council Tax by 5 per cent.

It’s clear that this is an austerity budget for public services and the living standards of all except the rich – he failed to introduce any new taxes on wealth, and by extending the stamp duty holiday is pushing house prices ever higher, putting house purchase further out of reach for young people.

Obviously Mr Sunak – who was behind the disastrous early lifting of pandemic restrictions last summer and the failure to lock down in September, which has cost tens of thousands of lives – has learned nothing from the last year. He is not interested in ensuring that the NHS is able to cope with the next pandemic. As far as Devon is concerned, this probably means that NHS managers will be looking for cuts again soon, and there could be new threats to our community hospitals round the corner.

Why is Devon’s Labour party supporting the Tories’ standstill, austerity budget?

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At Devon County Council on Thursday, Labour leader Cllr Rob Hannaford (left) commended the Conservatives’ budget as ‘full of Labour values’, and all the Labour councillors then voted for it, except one who abstained. Lib Dem, Independent and Green councillors voted against.

The budget did, it is true, provide increased funding for adult and children’s social care – but overwhelmingly to meet increased demand and rising costs, not to improve services – and then funded by a massive Council Tax rise which is unfair to many residents.

In other service areas, like Highways and Libraries, the budget meant standstill funding, reflecting the austerity which – despite Boris Johnson’s claims to have ended it – still applies to local government. If this reflects Labour values, I’ll eat my hat.