Month: November 2019

Will East Devon still have any community hospital beds – even any community hospitals – if the Tories are in power for a full 5 years? The full story of the Tories’ plans for our hospitals, two General Elections, and Claire Wright’s campaigns.

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First they came for Ottery St Mary (above), Cullompton and Axminster.  Just two months after the Tories won their last majority, in 2015, the local NHS – already starved of funds after 5 years of austerity – felt emboldened to close hospital beds in Ottery St. Mary, Cullompton and Axminster (inpatient beds for the Axe Valley will be concentrated in Seaton).

Then they targeted Sidmouth, Honiton and Okehampton.  In 2016, NEW Devon Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) consulted on proposals to close many more beds, preferably in Sidmouth, Honiton and Okehampton, and announced that it would be developing a ‘Local Estates Strategy’ (LES), widely believed to involve selling off some of the resulting half-empty hospital sites to help balance its budget, which had been crippled by Government underfunding.

At the same time, NHS Property Services took over.  That year, ownership of East Devon’s community hospitals had been handed over to NHS Property Services – a government-owned company set up by the Tories to sell off ‘surplus’ NHS assets. Independent County Councillor, Claire Wright, who had helped fight the Ottery closures, first raised concerns about NHSPS’ role and warned that bed closures were the first step to fully closing the hospitals which lost their beds.

Finally, Seaton became the sacrificial site, since Sidmouth was too important to the Tories. Hugo Swire, the MP for East Devon, was alarmed at the proposal to close beds in Sidmouth – in his constituency – because Claire had won a shock 13,000 votes and come second in the 2015 election, an almost unheard of feat for an Independent. In November 2016, Swire said in Parliament that if it came to a choice, Sidmouth’s should be saved (Seaton be damned, as it had been removed from his constituency in 2010). Surprise, surprise, although the CCG’s consultation showed more people supported keeping beds in Seaton than Sidmouth, on 2 March 2017 the CCG made the shock decision – unwarranted by any good evidence – to save Sidmouth’s and close Seaton’s.

On cue, the Government incentivised selling off hospital sites. The LES was now expected later in 2017, and in March that year (just after the CCG’s decisions on beds) the Government-commissioned Naylor report proposed that CCGs should get twice the actual value of any sale, to incentivise them. The Government quickly adopted the idea.

… but in June 2017’s surprise General Election, Claire Wright jumped to 21,000 votes and put herself in a strong position to defeat Swire next time. This followed my own equally surprising win in Seaton and Colyton in the County Council elections in May 2017, as voters showed their disgust at the hospital decision. The Tories were undoubtedly shocked at the Independent surge, especially the threat to Swire which could be put down directly to Claire’s fantastic campaigning for the community hospitals.

The Tories doubled down on the beds closures. In July 2017, led by 5 East Devon Tory county councillors including the chair of the Health Scrutiny Committee, Sara Randall Johnson, the Tory majority defeated Claire’s proposal to refer the beds closures to the Secretary of State’s independent panel, the last chance to save the beds. Later, in 2018, East Devon Tories also turned down requests from the town councils to list Ottery and Seaton hospitals as ‘assets of community value’, which would have given them some protection.

However, the Local Estates Strategy did not arrive in 2017. Or 2018. Or even 2019. It became clear that Swire and the national Tories were so scared by Claire’s threat that he could not afford the political cost of its going ahead, and must have found a way to persuade the CCG to shelve the proposal. In 2018, indeed, Swire got new Health Secretary Matt Hancock down to Ottery Hospital to discuss the situation with local NHS chiefs, and Hancock subsequently proclaimed that the era of ‘blindly closing community hospitals’ was over. A junior minister finally assured Swire that ‘his (!) hospital in Ottery had a secure future‘ a year ago.

But what if Boris Johnson wins an absolute majority? Surely he’s made big promises for the NHS – our hospitals will be safe? Alas, no. Nationally, Johnson has only promised money to refurbish 6 existing (not build new) hospitals now, and to do 34 more (total 40) between 2025 and 2030 (a case of jam tomorrow if ever there was one). None of the trusts who may hypothetically benefit are in Devon. There is nothing even hypothetically for any community hospital, anywhere.

And meanwhile, it has been revealed that Devon CCG (as it’s now called) is facing a £66m deficit in 2019-20, up from a budgeted £27m. No prizes for guessing that, if the Tories win a majority and are secure for 5 years, a local estates strategy may finally emerge. Indeed the CCG told me last month, ‘There will be an estates section in the Devon STP response to the NHS Long Term Plan, due to be published in the Autumn.’ (It has not yet appeared, due to the election no doubt.)

The era of ‘blindly closing community hospitals’ may be over, but if the Tories win big on December 12th – and especially if their new parachute candidate manages to squeak in ahead of Claire Wright – expect new pressures for bed cuts and targeted estate disposals in the next couple of years. Are Sidmouth’s and Exmouth’s beds really safe? Will Ottery St. Mary, Seaton, Axminster and Honiton even be open in 5 years’ time? Is that pledge to Ottery worth the paper it’s written on, from a Government which changes its mind every 5 minutes? It will very much depend on how people vote in this election.

Devon for Europe publishes tactical voting recommendations – Lib Dem in Tiverton & Honiton, Independent Claire Wright in East Devon, Labour in Exeter

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The full list:

Central Devon: Alison Eden, Liberal Democrats

East Devon: Claire Wright, Independent

Exeter: Ben Bradshaw, Labour

Newton Abbot: Martin Wrigley, Liberal Democrats

North Devon: Alex White, Liberal Democrats

Plymouth Moor View: Charlotte Holloway, Labour

Plymouth Sutton and Devonport: Luke Pollard, Labour

South West Devon: Alex Beverley, Labour

Tiverton and Honiton: John Timperley, Liberal Democrats

Torbay: Lee Howgate, Liberal Democrats

Torridge and West Devon: David Chalmers, Liberal Democrats

Totnes: Sarah Wollaston, Liberal Democrats

Most Seaton voting for the General Election will be at the Marshlands Centre, Harbour Road, not the Town Hall

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Because The Gateway was booked, Marshlands will be used. However I suspect that people living in the Beer Road Ward (part of the Beer district ward) may still be voting in the Mariners’ Hall, Beer. Look at your polling card which should be arriving shortly.

If you don’t get a card in the next couple of days, you may not be registered to vote at your current address.

REGISTER TO VOTE HERE (IT’S VERY SIMPLE ONLINE) – you must apply by the 26th

YOU CAN ALSO APPLY FOR A POSTAL VOTE FROM THE SAME PAGE, UP TO THAT DATE.

Johnson threatens a democratic emergency: why haven’t the opposition parties risen to the occasion?

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I’ve frankly been depressed by the failure of the opposition parties to rise to the occasion.  We face the threat of a majority Boris Johnson government which will force through a hard Brexit, do a trade deal with Donald Trump which will compromise our NHS, environmental and food standards, continue its chronic underfunding of health and schools, and make mainly token gestures towards the climate emergency.

All this is being massaged by the most deceitful election campaign ever, as the Tories pump out lying propaganda on an industrial scale. Johnson himself can’t open his mouth without lying, and is clearly wholly unfit to be Prime Minister. Victory for this PM would represent a democratic emergency.

Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens all recognise the dangers of Johnson’s new hard-right Conservatives. They are all offering policies which are vastly superior to those of the Tories. They cooperated (together with the independent-minded Tories who were thrown out of their party) to curb Johnson’s worst excesses in the last Parliament.

Yet they are now fighting election campaigns as though we had a perfect Proportional Representation system, when in fact we have First-Past-the-Post which gives the Tories an overwhelming advantage if the opposition is divided between Lab/Lib/Greens.

  • Labour refuses to stand down anywhere, despite there being many seats where the LibDems, Independents or Greens can win. They got 6,000 in the East Devon constituency last time, compared to Independent Claire Wright’s 21,000 and the Tories’ 29,000. But will they back a candidate who can win and agrees with them on many issues, or do they want to push a hopeless case?
  • The Lib Dems are standing down in Exeter – to support the Greens who cannot win, but not in East Devon (where they got an even more miserable 1500 votes in 2017) for Claire Wright who shares many of their policies.
  • The Greens appear to be standing down in East Devon (well done!) but by pushing their challenge in Exeter with the help of the Lib Dems, threaten to help the Tories steal the seat from excellent Labour MP, Ben Bradshaw.

I’ve voted Labour, Liberal Democrats and Green at different elections over the last few years, when there hasn’t been a good Independent candidate. I’m supporting Claire’s campaign although I don’t live in her constituency.

In Tiverton & Honiton (which includes Seaton and Colyton), there are now candidates for Labour (Liz Pole), the Liberal Democrats (John Timperley) and the Green Party (Gillian Westcott). I will vote for one of them, but my enthusiasm is dimmed by their parties’ failure to treat this election as the democratic emergency which it is.

Seaton Environmental Action, SEA, set up at public meeting and is moving quickly to plant trees

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A meeting of residents decided on Wednesday to set up Seaton Environmental Action (SEA) to address the climate and environmental crisis. SEA is an independent group working closely with the Town Council’s climate emergency working group, who called the initial meeting in October which led to this week’s step.

The meeting drew up agendas for the council (including issues to take to EDDC and DCC), for local businesses, and for the community, and three groups will discuss separately during the next meeting of SEA on Wednesday 27th November at 7pm in Pebbles Coffee House (all welcome).

A trees sub-group was set up and has already been offered 400 native saplings! If any landowners would like to offer land for planting, please contact me and I will put you in touch with the sub-group.

Seaton climate follow-up meeting to organise local action, this coming Wednesday

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As agreed at the meeting on 16th October, we are meeting again next Wednesday, 6th November, at 7pm to discuss the next steps. The meeting will be in the same place, the Old Picture House, not in Marshlands as previously stated.
The agenda will be:
1. Setting up a campaign
2. Prioritising action points from the 5 areas which we discussed at the first meeting
3. Deciding how to organise this and what are the next steps.
All welcome on Wednesday and please let everyone who might be interested know about this meeting.