East Devon Tories were central to ditching Seaton and Honiton hospital beds

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Councillor-Sara-Randall-JohnsonWhy did Devon’s Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee block the proposal to refer the closure of our beds to the Secretary of State? The idea that the Chair, Councillor Sara Randall Johnson (left), was settling an old score with Claire Wright makes a nice story but overlooks the concerted Conservative position. The collusion between Randall Johnson and Rufus Gilbert – who rushed to propose a ‘no referral’ motion before Claire could move her motion to refer -was obvious to all, as was her keenness to persuade her colleagues not to have a recorded vote.

Equally striking, however, is that only one out of 12 Tories on the Committee – Honiton’s Phil Twiss – voted against Gilbert’s motion. The other 7 Tories who voted were all for allowing the beds to be closed; 2 who had reservations abstained; 2 more were (diplomatically?) absent. Whipping is not allowed on Scrutiny committees, but this gives a strong impression of a Tory consensus. Members who were uncertain of their support were unwilling to defy it beyond abstention. Twiss was obviously a special case, as the one committee member whose hospital will lose its beds.

Clearly the Conservative Group on DCC gave their East Devon members the main role in dealing with the Eastern Locality hospital beds issue when in May (with its return to Scrutiny looming) they made Randall Johnson chair and nominated two Exmouth members, Jeff Trail and Richard Scott, as well as Twiss as members of the Health Scrutiny Committee. With East Devon Tory leader, Paul Diviani, representing Devon’s district councils, 5 of its Tory members were from East Devon and only 7 from the other five-sixths of the Tory group.

East Devon Tories on the committee certainly lived up to their role on Tuesday. All except Trail voted, making half of all Tory votes cast on the committee and 3 out of 7 on the pro-CCG side. In contrast, only 4 of the 7 Tories from elsewhere in the county cast a vote on this crucial issue: East Devon’s Tories may have convinced themselves, but not their colleagues.

Paul Diviani spills the beans

imagesWith Randall Johnson preoccupied with timekeeping (except when the CCG were speaking), Scott silent and Twiss asking questions, it was left to Diviani (right) to express the Tory rationale. He claimed to speak for Devon district councils as a whole, but has acknowledged that he had consulted none of the others. He was happy to defy his own Council, which has voted to keep hospital beds, and spoke for himself – and East Devon Conservatives.

Diviani’s caustic little speech deserves more attention than it has been given.

  • He started by saying that those who decide to live in the countryside expect diminished service, and must cut their cloth accordingly in current times – forgetting that many have lived here all their lives, or moved here long before the present Tory government arrived to savage the NHS.
  • ‘Costs will always rise without innovation’, Diviani continued, forgetting that the ‘costs’ of community hospitals are rising particularly because of the Tory innovation which gave them over to NHS Property Services and its ‘market rents’.
  • ‘Local decisions should be made locally’, he averred, overlooking the fact that Sustainability and Transformation Plans, Success Regimes and NHS property sales are all national initiatives forced on the local NHS – while NEW Devon CCG is so unrepresentative even of local doctors that only full-time managers (Sonja Manton and Rob Sainsbury) are allowed to present its case in public while its ‘practitioner’ figurehead, Dr Tim Burke, hides in a corner.

When, however, Diviani warned that ‘attempting to browbeat the Secretary of State to overturn his own policies is counter-intuitive’, he expressed the truth of the situation. The closure of community hospitals results from the determined policies of the Conservative Government. (Referral would have served the purposes of delaying permanent closures, embarrassing the Government and forcing its Independent Reconfiguration Panel to give an assessment of the issue.)

East Devon Tories are the Government’s faithful servants. ‘Don’t trust East Devon Tories’ over the hospitals, I warned during the County elections. How right have I been proved.

Proposal to move Seaton Post Office now being consulted on

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PO_Header_Desktop_Logo2016_79x59The Post Office would move to WHSmith Local, 19 Harbour Road. Opening hours would be the same except on Saturday, when it would be open until 5.30 pm. Some services would also be available at the retail counter, including on Sundays from 7 am to 4 pm. Currently, wheelchair access is an issue, but ‘a permanent ramp with handrails would be installed’ – this needs doing before the switch – and ‘internally, there would be a hearing loop and space for a wheelchair’.

The better opening hours are an advantage but parking will be a problem: the consultation document points people to the pay & display on the seafront, but I think people will be reluctant to pay while popping in to the Post Office. The lack of on-street parking is likely to lead to more cars on the double yellow lines on Harbour Road.

There is also a downside for the town centre: I know when I park on-street to go to the current PO, I’m more likely to pop into shops in Queen Street, Fore Street and Cross Street. Harbour Road isn’t far from these, but if you’re parking on double yellows to go into the PO, you won’t be going – uphill – to the town centre shops.

What do you think? You can access the proposals HERE, where it also tells you how to send your views to the consultation, which you must do by 15 September. Remember Costcutter is closing and it’s vital that we keep a PO in Seaton town centre.

The ‘Health Scrutiny Committee’ which didn’t scrutinise

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Fallout is growing from yesterday’s Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee at Devon County Council, which decided yesterday by 7 votes to 6, with 2 abstentions and 2 members absent, not to refer the closure of 71 beds in Seaton, Honiton, Okehampton and Whipton (Exeter) community hospitals to the Secretary of State. The vote means that the beds will permanently close in September and October.
‘A stitch-up’
This was the phrase most commonly heard among those who witnessed this meeting, including many  protestors (right).
Cllr Claire Wright (Independent, below) had prepared a detailed motion to refer the closures and had submitted it in writing to the Chair, Cllr Sara Randall Johnson (Conservative), before the meeting. However when debate began, Randall Johnson chose not to call her to speak but instead called fellow Conservative Cllr Rufus Gilbert who immediately proposed a motion NOT to refer, which was quickly seconded by Cllr Sylvia Russell.
claireThis blatant manoeuvre by the Chair meant that the committee never considered point by point, as Claire’s motion would have required it to, the 14 questions on which it had asked the NEW Devon Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to satisfy it. The committee blocked a referral – without discussing most of the careful objections which local councillors, EDDC and residents have raised.
We are considering a formal complaint about the way the meeting was handled.

What this means 

This meeting was the last constitutional means to overturn the CCG’s unjust treatment of Honiton and Okehampton, whose hospitals were excluded from the consultation options, and Seaton, whose beds have been closed using misleading data, leaving the whole Axe Valley without community beds. The Scrutiny Committee should have challenged these failures of the CCG but the Tories have chosen to condone them.
Now we must worry about what happens to hospital buildings without beds. Seaton hospital was paid for by the local community but the Government has handed it (like all the community hospitals) over to NHS Property Services and is forcing the CCG to pay them a so-called “market rent” for space. This was one of the reasons why the CCG wanted to remove so many beds and it will also make them reluctant to develop out-patient services in the hospital.
The danger is that the CCG, in its rush to save money, will simply centralise hospital services in Exeter. This is incredibly bad for communities like ours which are such a distance from the RD&E. Yesterday’s bad decision will only lead to new issues which the whole of the Axe Valley will have to face shortly.’
Roll of shame
  • The 7 councillors who voted NOT to refer the decision were all Conservatives: Sara Randall Johnson (Broadclyst), Richard Scott (Exmouth), Rufus Gilbert, Sylvia Russell, Paul Crabb and Ron Peart. John Berry and Jeremy Yabsley (both also Conservative) abstained.
In favour of referring the decision
  • The 6 councillors who voted against this motion, i.e. to refer the decision, were Claire Wright (Otter Valley, Independent), Brian Greenslade and Nick Way (Liberal Democrat), Hilary Ackland and Carol Whitton (Labour) and Phil Twiss (Honiton, Conservative).
Six public speakers, Cllr Roger Giles (Chair of East Devon’s Scrutiny Committee), Paul Arnott (Colyton), Cllr Jan Goffey (Mayor of Okehampton), Cllr Mike Allen, Bob Sturtivant and Stephen Craddock (Honiton), spoke eloquently against the closures for two and a half minutes each. County Councillor Ian Hall (Axminster) and I also addressed the committee for five minutes each.

Motion criticising NEW Devon CCG at EDDC Scrutiny, 6.30 tonight

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‘That this Council is concerned that the NHS NEW Devon CCG takes little or no notice of public opinion or the views of elected councillors. When consultations are held, the NHS NEW Devon CCG does not appear to follow the considered and constructive responses, and presses ahead with its intended decision even in the face of considerable opposition.
‘This Council therefore calls on National Government to ensure that all NHS CCGs are completely open and transparent, and fully embrace the important principles of democratic accountability.”
Proposed by Councillor Ben Ingham, seconded by Councillor Cathy Gardner and supported by Councillors Marianne Rixson, Val Ranger, Megan Armstrong and Geoff Jung.

Tory majority sacrifices Seaton and Honiton hospitals at Devon Health Scrutiny

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By 7 votes (all Conservative) to 6 (2 Liberal Democrats, 2 Labour, 1 Conservative and Independent, Claire Wright), Devon County Council's Health Scrutiny Committee today sealed the fate of the beds in the two hospitals (and Okehampton) by voting not to refer the closure of beds to the Secretary of State for Health.

Police Community Support Officer cuts debated at County Council

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Read the report here by Claire Wright. The Council’s Tory majority also declined to discuss motions asking for the resignation of the Police and Crime Commissioner, Alison Hernandez, and on education funding – both will be sent to the Council’s Cabinet for discussion before coming back to the Council in October (!).

County Council will ‘look at’ support for X52 bus from Seaton and Beer to Exeter

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IMG_0272At Devon County Council yesterday, I asked Councillor Roger Croad, Cabinet Member for Transportation, if the Council would support peak services on the X52 Jurassic Coaster bus services, which are threatened with closure by First Wessex.
First Wessex proposes to run only two off-peak buses a day in each direction from September, instead of the current five peak and off-p
eak services. While better than nothing, these will be inadequate for people in Seaton and Beer who want to work or study in Exeter or get to appointments at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital. Relying just on these services, people would barely be able to spend an hour in Exeter before having to get the bus back.
This is the only service direct from Seaton and Beer to the RD&E and this narrow window will not enable people to get to appointments. Using other services, people in Beer who want to get to the hospital will have to change twice in Seaton and Exeter Bus Station and the journey which currently takes an hour will take more than two hours each way, making it arduous and impractical for many people.
Councillor Croad initially replied to suggest that people could use these alternative routes, but in a supplementary question, I suggested that since hospital services are increasingly being centralised in the RD&E, the withdrawal of direct bus services discriminates against people without cars in communities like Seaton and Beer which are on the periphery of Devon. Seaton is further from the RD&E than any other town in Devon and has the oldest population profile of any town in Devon. We need direct public transport links to the acute hospital in Exeter.
Councillor Croad then said that if I would meet him afterwards, he would discuss the issue with me. We later talked and he agreed to look further at the question. My supplementary question and the reply can be viewed here 1:47:50 to 1:49:15.