NEW Devon CCG
‘A wake-up call for East Devon … the threat is even more serious than the loss of beds last year’ – my letter in The Paper for Honiton on the fallout from Dr Kerr’s statement that Seaton and Honiton hospitals are ‘at risk’
It has been revealed that Dr Simon Kerr, Chair of NEW Devon CCG’s Eastern Locality, told a meeting with representatives of 38 Degrees on 5th April that Seaton and Honiton hospitals were ‘at risk’ in the CCG’s Local Estates Strategy due in July. His remarks were taken down by the 38 Degrees member who produced draft notes of the meeting, and have been confirmed by other participants, but have not yet been confirmed by the CCG.
Although the hospitals both lost their inpatient beds last summer, Seaton Hospital currently hosts over 50 outpatient services (and there are probably at least as many in Honiton). Both are vital community health resources, created with decades of financial and practical support from people all around the Seaton and Honiton areas.
As part of a move to promote ‘place-based care’, the CCG and RD&E are currently taking part in two ‘community health conversations’, Honiton’s Health Matters and Seaton and Area’s Health Matters, which local voluntary groups, town and parish councils etc. are involved in. However if place-based care means anything, it should mean that communities should keep their local hospitals as health hubs, with more rather than fewer services.
Together with Cllr Jack Rowland, who stood down as mayor of Seaton last week but remains the town council’s representative on the Health Matters organising group, have written to Dr Tim Burke, Chair of the CCG, to ask for an unequivocal assurance that the hospitals will remain open.
I am hoping to shortly announce a meeting of the hospital campaign group.
Save Our Hospital Services demonstrating outside CCG and Health Scrutiny at County Hall on Thursday 22nd
Our pressure has led to Devon NHS joining a national retreat from privatising Accountable Care Organisations. However the Devon Integrated Care System will still cap care, with weak democratic control – we need time to rethink
Regular readers will be aware that Devon has been following NHS England’s plan to get Sustainability and Transformation Plans or Partnerships (STPs: Devon’s is the successor to the ‘Success Regime’ which cut our community hospital beds) to ‘evolve’ into Accountable Care Systems (ACSs) which in turn will prepare to establish Accountable Care Organisations (ACOs).
Under ACOs, single organisations could be contracted to provide all services in an area for 10 years or more, and these organisations could – Jeremy Hunt has confirmed this to Sarah Wollaston – just as well be private companies as NHS bodies. So all of Devon’s NHS could have ended up being run by Virgin Care – or a US care conglomerate under Theresa May’s desired trade agreement with Donald Trump.
As recently as December 2017, Dr Tim Burke, Chair of Northern, Eastern and Western (NEW) Devon Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), endorsed a ‘route map‘ for Devon’s ACS which said that in the ACS, ‘The Accountable Care Delivery System will hold the capitated budget for the population covered’, and that the aim is ‘through bringing budgets together on a whole population and/or model of care basis, [to] provide signals to providers on how to organise. This will signal the number, shape and scope of accountable care organisations and how they will need to work together to deliver.’
Devon backs off ACOs
Devon’s CCGs still want to set up an ACS – now rebranded an Integrated Care System (ICS). However in February they said: ‘A few areas in England are on their way to establishing an Accountable Care Organisation (ACO), where a single organisation is responsible for planning and delivering services to the whole population. This is not being considered in Devon.’
They are not the only ones to back off ACOs – indeed this week Kernow CCG went further and rejected the option of setting up an ICS under the overall control of the Cornwall Council CEO. Instead they voted for S75 partnership agreements for integration of NHS and social care, which have the advantage of being lawful as they’re mandated by the NHS 2006 Act. (Devon County Council already has a partnership agreement with the CCGs.)
Last Wednesday, the CCGs told Devon’s Health and Wellbeing Board that a ‘shadow’ ICS which will operate from 1st April, which they hope to be part of the next wave of formal ICSs to be recognised by NHS England. Within this, they aim to set up one Devon-wide ‘care partnership’ for mental health and four ‘local care partnerships‘ for Northern, Eastern, Southern and Western Devon. These will have boards with local government representatives (district and county councillors) as well as representatives of acute, primary care and mental health providers, and will engage with wider stakeholders such as the voluntary sector.
A victory for legal action and local pressure
It appears the retreat is genuine – and national. A Northumberland County Council Cabinet paper says ‘it now seems clear that no ACOs will be created nationally in the near future, as a result in a shift of national policy.’ It also says, ‘The original plans for the ACO are not now proceeding. Discussions are ongoing with NHS England, NHS Improvement and local system leaders about how organisational relationships might now develop to support the integration of services, however the timetable for and nature of any new arrangements remains unclear.’
I am authoritatively informed that this shift results from the impossibility of new legislation to allow ACOs to be created (a result of the hung parliament!). This is very interesting: it implies that while currently NHS England is still defending the crowdfunded judicial review of its draft ACO contract, it is already recognising that ACOs cannot be introduced in England under present legislation. It seems likely that full ACOs may only happen if the Tories regain a parliamentary majority. We shall have to see how precisely the legal challenge develops, but the retreat is already a significant victory for the legal action – and for the local pressure which I, other councillors and Save Our Hospital Services campaigners have mounted in Devon.
Lack of democracy in the development of the ICS
This leaves us with the proposed Devon ICS – and the undemocratic process of its introduction. A proposal is finally being put to DCC’s Cabinet this Wednesday, but since the Council itself will not meet until after 1st April, the CCGs will introduce the ICS without the approval of DCC, whose logo they have been using to advertise the idea since September. The Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee, which is supposed to examine important developments in the local NHS, is only discussing it on 22nd March, nine days before the ICS starts, its chair having disregarded the agreement that a special meeting should be held if the ICS was going ahead on 1st April!
This is the result of the lamentable failure of the Council’s Conservative leadership to bring the proposals to Council over the last 6 months. Would they even have been discussing it now, if I – a backbench councillor from the smallest opposition group – had not put it on the agenda of Health Scrutiny on 25th January? Or would they just have joined it without direct authority, as they did with the STP – after the Council rejected the Success Regime in December 2016, DCC officers (presumably with informal Cabinet authorisation) simply participated in the STP following the general duty of the Council to cooperate with the CCGs as statutory NHS organisations?
Problems with the proposed ICS
- The ICS will be based on capitated funding, which means that Devon NHS patients will be entitled only to the services which the CCGs decide they can have within their financial envelope. This is embedding the existing postcode lottery in the NHS, and another major step away from a universal national service.
- In the current situation, capitated funding is capitated underfunding, and threatens to further embed current dire shortfalls in service – as I pointed out at the last Health Scrutiny, all Devon’s four acute trusts were further away from meeting official targets for A&E, cancer care and routine operations in January 2018 than 12 months previously. Better-off patients will continue to be pushed towards private practice leaving the rest with a second-class NHS.
- The CCGs intend to apply capitation to each of Devon’s four areas, calling it ‘fair funding’ which is really equality of misery. Since Eastern Devon is ‘overfunded’ compared to Western Devon, watch out for a sharper deterioration in the east.
- Since the CCGs intend to apply for formal recognition as an ICS, which will bring them greater local financial flexibility, we need to know how they will use this.
- Commissioning power for all Devon’s NHS will be concentrated in the hands of a single Strategic Commissioner, who will be responsible only to the combined boards of the two CCGs. The CCGs say they don’t want to set up an ‘undemocratic organisation’ – but they are undemocratic organisations, with power concentrated in the hands of a few professional managers and selected doctors, and a single commissioner will concentrate undemocratic power further.
- There is no clarity on how NHS and DCC funding will be combined. There is a danger that adult social care, which is currently run by DCC, will increasingly be taken over by the CCGs, diminishing democratic control.
- Local care partnerships have been a fundamental part of the new system since it was first agreed by the CCGs in September, but despite this no paper has yet been published to elaborate this element, so we are being asked to approve a vague idea.
What needs to happen now
- DCC’s Cabinet cannot approve these proposals at this stage.
- Full proposals – including proper details of the Local Care Partnerships – should go to Health Scrutiny first, and then back to Cabinet at its next meeting, and finally to Council later in the summer.
- We need an explanation of how Devon patients can regain national standards of care while introducing this system.
- Proposals for strengthening democratic control, including the role of DCC and other councils, in the ICS should be brought forward first.
- Meanwhile, DCC officers can cooperate under their existing S75 partnership with the NHS.
- Nothing will be lost by a delay in bringing these proposals to Council, but that will not only enable proper scrutiny by Council, but will also allow the public to join the discussion.
- After Scrutiny and Cabinet have further considered the proposals, DCC and the CCGs should produce a document explaining these developments to the public and invite public debate on them.
The new model of care is working, they say, but patients who could have been treated in Seaton Hospital are still bed-blocking in the RD&E
Below is the RD&E’s latest publicity leaflet for the ‘new model of care’ boasting ‘no complaints’ from people who were treated between 28 August and 10 September. On the reverse side it features Doug – is it a coincidence that he is from Seaton? – who has had a knee amputation and is being cared for at home after two weeks on an acute ward. He says, ‘I cannot praise enough the wonderful care and treatment I have received right through from the surgical team to the community healthcare professionals. The skills and attention to detail they have shown is remarkable. It’s been a pleasure having them in my home.’
I am sure that the dedicated professionals working in the new system are doing their best for the patients. But are all the people who would have been transferred to the community hospitals actually getting the treatment at home which they are promised by ‘Your Future Care’? At the same time I received this comment from a Seaton resident: ‘A friend of mine’s husband has been in the RD&E for about 10 days. He could have come home 4 days ago, but there was no home care arranged for him – no one available to do the job, so his wife is paying privately to get help, and he will now be coming home some time on Sunday. He will have been bed blocking for 1 WEEK. It says it all doesn’t it?’
Devon Conservative machine backs Health Scrutiny travesty, blocks my last-ditch attempt to defend our hospital beds
Yesterday the Conservative Party machine defeated my final attempt to get Devon County Council to take action over the closure of community hospitals beds. My motion, seconded by Claire Wright, asked the Health Scrutiny Committee to look again at the issues it failed to scrutinise properly in July, and asked the Council to write to the Secretary of State for Health to alert him to our concern about hospital beds. I highlighted widespread NHS concern that there will be too few beds if there is a flu epidemic this winter. My speech is printed below and you can watch it here.
The Tory response was an amendment, moved by the leader, John Hart, which took the guts out of the motion. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, it said that Health Scrutiny had ‘extensively considered the issues and concerns from members of the public, elected members and others, including medical professionals, all matters relating to the closure of some community hospital beds in Honiton, Okehampton, Seaton and Whipton.’
Instead of my proposal to write to the Secretary about the beds closures, the amendment proposed to write ‘seeking reassurance that appropriate funding is provided by government to deliver the necessary health and social care services in Devon’. Not a dicky bird to the minister about community hospital beds, the whole point of the debate.
In reply I told the Council (at 3.10) that if they passed this amendment, they would be ignoring East Devon opinion just like Kensington & Chelsea Council ignored the residents of Grenfell Tower; and the Conservative Group as a whole would have made itself responsible for the failure of scrutiny.
The result Although they were not formally whipped, 40 Tories fell dutifully in line to support the amendment. There were 16 votes against (these were Liberal Democrat, Labour, Independent and Green members, together with only one Conservative, Ian Hall of Axminster).
Claire made a valiant attempt to put some guts back into the motion, with another amendment – but the Tory machine squashed that too.
During the Council meeting, the overhead display announced the date as ‘5 Octobe’, losing an ‘r’ in apparent tribute to the recent successful Tory conference, on which Steve Bell comments in today’s Guardian:
Text of my speech:
I represent a large division in East Devon. 2 years ago Seaton, Axminster and Honiton hospitals had in-patient beds, universally appreciated by patients & doctors, and supported by local communities. Today large parts of each hospital lie empty – nurses and other staff are dispersed – volunteers have been told they are no longer needed. We don’t even know whether the buildings will survive as centres of health services or be sold off.
This is the biggest crisis East Devon & Okehampton have faced in many years. Local communities have been united in their opposition; councillors of all parties have opposed the decisions.
After a biased consultation and unjust decisions, we looked to the Health Scrutiny Committee to hold NEW Devon CCG to account, and they have failed us. My proposal today is not a motion of NO confidence in any councillor or party. It is a motion to RESTORE confidence in this Council’s ability to represent Devon communities and stand up for their interests.
The tragedy is that Health Scrutiny started sensibly by asking the CCG 14 questions, in order to decide whether it should use its legal power to refer their decision. This proposal had cross-party backing, with the support of more Conservatives than members of any other party. A minority of the committee were, however, determined from the beginning to disregard public concern and voted not even to ask the questions.
The CCG replied to the questions but the Committee found their answers inadequate and wrote back detailing areas of concern. So far so good – a model of scrutiny. But things started to go wrong when the issue came to the new Health & Adult Care committee in June. The new Chair argued that members were insufficiently experienced to decide the issue and recommended delaying a decision until September 21st. It escaped no one’s notice that this was after the date given for permanent closure of the beds. It was seen as an attempt to prevent effective scrutiny.
Fortunately, the Committee agreed instead to a special meeting in July. For this meeting, the County Solicitor prepared a guidance paper outlining 6 issues outstanding with the CCG. Councillor Ian Hall, Councillor Mike Allen who is a Conservative District councillor, and others joined me in pressed the local communities’ case.
However the CCG gave a long powerpoint presentation which simply did not address most of the 6 issues, and before any debate could take place, Councillor Gilbert proposed there be no referral. In case anyone believed that he still wanted to scrutinise the issues, he made a point of emphasising that not referring would ‘save the committee a huge amount of work ’.
Councillor Diviani then told the committee that referral would be a waste of time, because ‘attempting to browbeat the Secretary of State to overturn his own policies is counter-intuitive’.
The Committee never discussed most of the remaining issues that the guidance paper had identified. Let me mention just one, the surprise decision to close Seaton’s beds, removing all provision from the Axe Valley. Neither the CCG nor any member gave any reason for believing this decision was justified – yet the committee voted for it anyway and the empty wards of Seaton hospital are the consequence.
There was no broad support for the anti-scrutiny motion: it was supported only by 7-6 ; 4 members abstained or were absent. The meeting was widely seen as an abdication of scrutiny. The Standards Committee says it ‘may not reflect well on the Council as a whole’. I would go further: it did not reflect well on this Council.
Since then, it has become obvious that cutting beds to the bone brings great risks. The Head of the NHS, Simon Stevens, has called for more beds to be urgently made available this winter in face of a possible flu epidemic. Expert bodies like the Kings Fund, the College of Emergency Medicine and NHS Providers have backed the judgement that the NHS is cutting too far, too fast. These are new reasons to question the CCG’s plans.
This motion therefore proposes that
- The Scrutiny Committee should look again at the issues which were not satisfactorily addressed.
- The Council should tell the Secretary of State that the CCG’s decisions and the wider STP process have aroused great feeling in Devon, that people are not happy with either the decisions or the way they were made , and we are worried that we simply won’t have enough beds for the coming winter.
- Finally, following a more constructive Health Scrutiny meeting on 21st September, this motion welcomes the Committee’s help in securing community hospital buildings.
Some of you may still wonder if Cllr Diviani was right, and all these proposals will be a waste of time. The answer to this is given in a recent letter from the Secretary’s own office: ‘As you may know,’ it says, ‘contested service changes can be referred to the Secretary of State, who then takes advice from the Independent Reconfiguration Panel.’ So a referral is not something the minister deals with personally; it is a legally defined procedure.
The letter continues, ‘However, as you are aware, Devon’s Health Scrutiny Committee … passed a motion … in favour of not referring the CCG’s decision to the Secretary of State.’ Cllr Diviani suggested that referral was pointless because of the minister’s opinions: the minister’s office implies it WOULD be meaningful, if only Devon would take action.
I ask you to restore this Council’s reputation and take the action which it is within your power to take, even at this late date, to save our community hospital beds.