Now that the diary of Sasha Swire, wife of Hugo, the former East Devon MP, is out (not just extracts in the press), it’s even clearer (see below) that the sudden Tory shift on community hospitals in 2018, after Matt Hancock became Health Secretary, was primarily driven by Claire Wright’s campaign to save East Devon’s community hospitals and Ottery St. Mary in particular.
Sasha Swire is completely wrong, however, to say that there was no threat to close the hospitals. The reason for closing beds in Axminster, Seaton, Ottery and Honiton was not only to save money on ward costs, but also to prepare the way for selling some of the sites for property development.
Remember that in 2017-18, CCG was constantly threatening to publish a Local Estates Strategy as a follow-up to the bed closures, and the Government commissioned the Naylor Review which proposed incentives to local NHS organisations for selling off ‘surplus’ property.
However the huge resistance to these plans from communities across East Devon caused the CCG and the local Tories to hit pause. After Swire was finally motivated to save Ottery (he had been prepared to sacrifice Seaton’s beds, because it was no longer in his constituency), Hancock was pushed into telling the Tory conference that ‘the era of blindly closing community hospitals is over’.
This doesn’t mean our hospitals are safe. Some like Seaton are still partly empty because the NHS has never put in the money to use them fully for local services. But it does mean that voting against the Tories remains the most reliable way to keep them.
(PS Hugo really does come through as a B’stard, and after reading his wife’s account, how could anyone possibly believe he deserved his knighthood?)