Devon County Council
Health Scrutiny Chair should consider her position after rebuke and the County must act to restore confidence in scrutiny of NHS
My press release:
Devon County Council’s Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Chair, Councillor Sara Randall Johnson (right), should immediately consider her position following the stinging rebuke issued to her by the Council’s Standards Committee. The Council should also act to restore the credibility of Health Scrutiny, since its failure to fully scrutinise the removal community hospital beds in Honiton, Okehampton and Seaton has destroyed public confidence in its activities across a large swathe of Devon.
At its meeting on 29 August, minutes of which are published today, the Standards Committee agreed that while Cllr Randall Johnson had not broken the Members’ Code of Conduct, she should ‘be strongly reminded of the importance of the work of scrutiny committees – reinforcing the value of neutrality in scrutiny both generally and in calling the “health service” to account – and the need to be seen to be even handed and scrupulously fair, recognising that failure to do so may be perceived as a deliberate act.’
The call for a Scrutiny Chair to ‘be strongly reminded of the importance of the work’ of her committee, and of the value of neutrality and being seen to be even-handed and fair, is unprecedented and should lead Cllr Randall Johnson to immediately consider her position. There is no public confidence that she will lead the committee to carry out full and impartial scrutiny of NHS decision-making.
Effects on the Council’s reputation
The Standards Committee also ‘accepts that the events of the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee meeting on 25 July 2017 may not reflect well on individual Members or upon the Council as a whole, and further recognises that the perception gained by persons present at the meeting or subsequently viewing the webcast is not that which would have been desired’.
This stark acknowledgement of the damage done to Devon County Council’s reputation also requires early action by the Council to reassure the public that the Committee will do its job properly in future and protect the NHS in Devon.
The Scrutiny Committee ignored the views of local communities and their representatives and has allowed the CCG to get away with damaging cuts. The Council must now consider how to restore people’s faith that it will protect all our community hospitals in the future. I shall ensure that this is discussed when the Council meets on 5th October.
We will be meeting on the main steps of County Hall from 1 pm to protest against the closure decisions, together with people from Okehampton (whose beds are also threatened) and other parts of Devon. Tell your friends and bring placards!
The meeting starts at 2.15 and we want as many people as possible to be in the public gallery to support our 6 speakers in the public participation session at the beginning of the meeting. As a Councillor (but not a member of the committee), I will be speaking later when we reach the item.
Howard and Anne West are organising a bus to take people from Colyford and Seaton to the meeting. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org AS SOON AS POSSIBLE if you would like a seat on the bus (£9).
60 people packed Marshlands, Seaton, last night for the planning meeting which called this demonstration. Dr Mark Welland, Seaton GP and Chair of the Hospital League of Friends, addressed the meeting which was chaired by Jack Rowland, Mayor of Seaton.
The battle to keep in-patient beds in Seaton Hospital should now return to Devon County Council’s Health Scrutiny Committee, I argue in a statement issued to the press today.
The Council has the power to refer the decision of the NEW Devon Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to the Secretary of State for Health. In March, the Scrutiny Committee asked the CCG to answer 14 questions before the Council exercised this power. The CCG responded, but the answers will remain confidential until the June meeting of the new committee, whose members will be nominated at the Council’s Annual Meeting on May 25th.
I have now seen the CCG’s answers but I am not allowed to reveal them publicly, which I think is deplorable. However I can state that, particularly in relation to the decision about Seaton, the CCG’s case remains flimsy and threadbare. I shall be raising this matter as soon as the new committee meets and I urge other interested parties in the Axe Valley to join me in making representations. I have had a preliminary talk with Axminster’s new County Councillor, Ian Hall, and I hope we can make a cross-party case for the whole local community on this issue. I am also talking to Honiton campaigners.
Judicial review: fundraising insufficient
I am proposing this way forward after the urgent appeal for £20,000 for the first stage of a judicial review of the decision, the preparation of a ‘letter of complaint’ – which I made last Saturday following my election on Friday – failed to raise enough money to proceed.
I was moved by the response in which about 70 donations have been made. Sadly, however, the total raised, while over £5,000, was still not sufficient to pay the solicitors to prepare the letter, for which they would have charged £16,800. It might have been possible to raise the balance after the letter was sent, but within three weeks the action itself, requiring a fighting fund of many tens of thousands, would also have had to be launched. In the light of this response, there seemed no prospect of raising the further money in the time available.
I therefore decided not to proceed with the action. I felt it was unfair to the donors to spend their money on something which could not be followed through. I have incurred some legal costs but most of the money will be returned, and I have written to those donors whose names I had (others will be contacted in due course after I have sorted things out with the League of Friends).
The appeal has had a positive effect, however, in that new evidence came to light which strengthens the case that the CCG acted wrongly in the way they made the Seaton decision. This will be used in representations to the County Council. I also urge voters to make the Seaton and Honiton hospital beds a priority with all candidates in the General Election, so that whoever is our MP makes the new Health Secretary aware of local anger about this issue.
East Devon’s sole Independent county councillor, Claire Wright (Ottery St Mary) has persuaded Devon County Council to become the first council to press the Government to keep EU environmental protections.