Who’s ‘weaponising’ community hospitals, @HugoSwire? Two years ago you were happy to sell out Seaton Hospital to save your parliamentary career
Dear Hugo Swire,
In a recent Exmouth Journal article you said: “Regrettably, Ottery Hospital has been weaponised by an anti-Tory coalition for nigh on ten years with them telling a naturally alarmed local community that it will be sold off or closed. I have spent 10 years trying to counter this scaremongering. …”
It’s hardly scaremongering when the hospital has lost its beds and this July’s Devon NHS Sustainability and Transformation Partnership report said, ‘We know a large amount of space in our community hospital buildings is underused. The revenue cost of our community hospital estates is in the order of £20 million; money the NHS could use to improve other services. Working with other public sector partners, as part of the One Public Estate initiative, we will review the space that is required to deliver care, and plan to consolidate the number of sites to free up estate and generate money, which can be re-invested in technology and infrastructure.’
It’s also rich for you to talk about ‘weaponising’ community hospitals. In Seaton we remember all too well when the Clinical Commissioning Group launched its consultation on the future of community hospital beds in 2016, with its preferred option being Option A which would keep the beds in Tiverton, Exmouth and Seaton. You said in Parliament that ‘option B, which sees the beds retained in Tiverton, and also in Sidmouth and Exmouth, is the option worthy of support. Sidmouth has an extremely high proportion of over-85s, with people increasingly living longer, and of people with dementia. Exmouth is the biggest town in Devon with more than 35,000 people.’
Four months later the CCG followed your recommendation, changed its preference, and closed Seaton’s beds. The reasons given for preferring Sidmouth to Seaton were specious – Seaton has an almost identical proportion of elderly. In short, Hugo Swire, you sold Seaton down the river because it was no longer in your constituency (having been removed due to boundary changes in 2010) and you needed to save beds in Sidmouth as well as Exmouth to fend off the challenge from Claire Wright, who even so ran you close in the 2017 General Election.
Today Seaton Hospital, like Ottery, Honiton and Axminster, faces an uncertain future. If it closes, it will be a knock-on effect of the beds decision, and it will be partly on your head.
Martin Shaw, County Councillor for Seaton and Colyton
Why has EDDC refused to list Seaton and other community hospitals as ‘assets of community value’, when other Devon districts have done so? Jack Rowland will ask at the EDDC on Wednesday
Jack Rowland, chair of Seaton Area Health Matters, has sent me this report:
So, what have we been doing recently?
From conversations earlier this year when we invited representatives from the statutory and voluntary health sectors the following 10 priorities emerged:
- To take an area approach for the Axe Valley, not just Seaton.
- Improving communication and co-ordination between voluntary organisations.
- Maintaining and extending NHS services in GP practices and at Seaton Hospital.
- The challenges in older age groups (chronic diseases, loneliness and isolation).
- The challenges in younger age groups (drug and alcohol addiction, housing, poverty).
- Mental health support.
- Transport difficulties to access services.
- Promoting health and wellbeing
- Communication on what is available.
- Co-ordination and ownership to tackle the challenges.
In order to look at these challenges a Steering Group was established and the membership is:
Jack Rowland (Chair) Seaton Town Councillor
Geoff Pook (Vice Chair) East Devon District Councillor
Marcus Hartnell East Devon District Councillor / Seaton Town Councillor
Victoria Parry Food & Wellbeing Charity / Clinical Commissioning Group Community Representative
Martin Shaw Devon County Councillor / Seaton Town Councillor
Roger Trapani Clinical Commissioning Group Community Representative
Tina Trapani Devon Senior Voice Representative
Dr Mark Welland Seaton G.P. & Chair of Seaton Hospital League of Friends
From this steering group 2 working parties have been looking at these priorities as many of the challenges are inter-connected.
One working party is producing a report to put forward a case for maintaining and extending NHS services as part of a health hub. A meeting has been arranged for 5 November at Seaton Hospital with senior representatives from the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital.
The other working party has been collating information to establish the details of the voluntary organisations in our area that are involved in some way in health and well-being. The intention is to show the information, with the permission of the organisation, on this website and to also have a dedicated phone line available for people to use who may not have access to the internet. When the phone line is available we will publicise this on this website and by issuing a press release and using advertising posters around the town as well as social media.
We are also considering carrying out a Seaton Area survey to give everyone the opportunity to tell us their views on what they want to see in the area for health care and wellbeing provision – this would be in the form of both a paper format and online.
Okehampton, like Seaton and Honiton, lost its beds last year. Read their report.
Local Conservative councillors were scared to have their individual votes on community hospital closures recorded at yesterday’s County Council meeting
The big question about why the Tories were so determined to add ‘where appropriate‘ to my amendment that the County Council should work to save ALL Devon’s community hospitals is: Which hospital do they NOT think it is appropriate to keep as a community health and wellbeing centre?
I mentioned in my speech that East Devon councillors like Phil Twiss (Honiton) and Ian Hall (Axminster) had made it clear that their hospitals should be kept. And not one councillor popped up to make it clear that, yes, their hospital was the exception.
Tory leader John Hart told me that Teignmouth was a case, because the CCG was funding a new health centre there. But Teignmouth people are up in arms about the closure of their hospital and Teignmouth councillor Sylvia Russell was certainly not volunteering to support its closure.
Yet as far as I know all these councillors, and East Devon Conservatives like Stuart Hughes (Sidmouth), Richard Scott and Jeff Trail (Exmouth), Sara Randall Johnson and Ray Bloxham (Exmouth), voted to add the ‘where appropriate’ get-out (which presumably they think may be used for someone else’s hospital).
I say ‘as far as I know’ because the Tories also voted not to have their votes recorded on my amendment. As far as I know, all those mentioned also voted for this suppression of information, too! If I have inadvertently maligned anyone, in the absence of this information being recorded, please let me know.
The only Conservative who did not support the get-out was, as I said in my last post, Dartmouth councillor Jonathan Hawkins, who spoke movingly about the plight of his community since their hospital was closed.
Claire Wright and I win a commitment from the County Council to work to save ALL Devon’s community hospitals, although the Conservatives can’t stop themselves adding get-out clauses
In a hour-long debate in yesterday’s meeting, the Council adopted proposals which Cllr Claire Wright and I, the two Independent members from East Devon, put forward, in place of the original recommendation by the Cabinet.
The ruling Conservative group adopted (with a small addition) the wording of my amendment, which Claire seconded, which proposed to influence NHS decisions ‘in the direction of retaining all community hospitals to be used as health and wellbeing centres for their areas‘, in place of the original Cabinet recommendation to merely seek ‘decision making appropriate to individual circumstances, including population need and the quality of building.’
This is an important change in direction by the Council, which is now committed for the first time to work to retain ALL hospitals, as Claire (who proposed the original motion) had requested. The Conservative leader, Cllr John Hart, insisted on adding the words ‘where appropriate’ to my proposal, which we opposed because it provides the NHS with additional leeway to close hospitals. Cllr Hart’s addendum was too much for one Conservative Councillor, Jonathan Hawkins (Dartmouth), who voted with the opposition for my amendment without this addition, in the light of his community’s experience of the closure of Dartmouth Hospital.
The Devon Clinical Commissioning Groups could end this controversy with a clear policy statement that all remaining hospitals will stay open and will be supported as health and wellbeing centres for our communities. Until this happens, Claire and I, with the support of tens of thousands of people around Devon who are fighting for their local hospitals, will continue our campaign. On yesterday’s evidence, we are winning.
WATCH the debate online.
Health Secretary tells Conservative conference ‘the era of blindly, invariably closing community hospitals is over’ – we shall see if Devon Tories have got the message at this afternoon’s County Council meeting
In potentially game-changing comments for our hospitals in Seaton, Honiton, Axminster and Ottery St Mary, new Health Secretary, Matt Hancock said:
‘We’ve got to reform the system so we spend more time on prevention not cure, with more integration between health and social care, and more treatment closer to home.
‘What I mean by this is that the era of moving all activity into fewer, larger hospitals and blindly, invariably closing community hospitals is over. … I want more services closer to the communities they serve.’
Claire Wright has a motion on the hospitals at this afternoon’s County Council, which I am seconding and the Conservative Cabinet originally proposed to water down. We shall see if they have got the very welcome new message from their health secretary. It is certainly our job to make sure that they and the CCGs take note.