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 That offer is still on the table – NHS PS have not withdrawn it – in the review of housing capacity currently being discussed by EDDC.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.’

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