NEW Devon Clinical Commissioning Group

Hospital beds fight shifts back to County Council

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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).

Case strengthened 

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.

CCG closing Seaton Hospital beds by stealth

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The NEW Devon Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) promised that Seaton Hospital beds would not be closed until its new ‘care at home’ scheme is in place. Yet at the Seaton Health Forum last week it was reported that occupancy, which is normally over 90 per cent, had fallen to two-thirds. And today a local resident has reported on Facebook:
“I had to take my dad to the hospital in Exeter for a procedure. This has all gone well and they were going to move him to a different ward to recuperate perhaps for ten days. I said it would be good if he could be moved to Seaton Hospital. I was told that staff had been told not to send people to Seaton. The look of disgust on the doctors face suggested that there was more to that sentence along the lines of ‘because they want to keep it empty so that it looks like it is not being used’.”
The resident concludes, ‘Do you ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?’ and I agree. It appears that CCG is now closing Seaton Hospital’s beds by stealth. This follows Devon County Council’s refusal to release the CCG’s response to Devon’s Health Scrutiny Committee’s 14 questions, until after the County election next week. It now appears that not only have the CCG used the elections to avoid accountability, but they have reneged on their promises about implementation. 
I demand that the CCG ensure that Seaton Hospital is used normally until the new system is fully operational, and that any implementation process is transparent and subject to public scrutiny. If elected next Thursday, my first job will be to hold the CCG to account.
 
This news only increases the urgency of Seaton Town Council’s decision about judicial review, which it is due to make on Tuesday 2nd May.

How Seaton fares in the papers for CCG meeting

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The papers for the CCG meeting on Thursday are available online. On a quick reading of the 92 pages of the report on the consultation, it is impossible to say clearly what outcomes they point to. All the report says about how the meeting will approach the decision is: ‘The scheduled date for the Governing Body to make a decision is the 2 March 2017, although a key feature in that meeting will be assessing readiness for such a key decision. The CCG has already confirmed the papers will be published and the decision will be made in public, and communicated to stakeholders afterwards. If it is decided that further work is needed prior to decision, it will be for the Governing Body to confirm the rationale and when the decision will be made.

However the summaries of the consultation highlight some things which are hopeful for Seaton, and maybe for the wider aim of keeping more beds in more hospitals than the CCG envisaged:

  • The public meeting in Seaton organised by Seaton Town Council, the League of Friends and the GP surgeries was easily the largest event (estimated at 250 people – I thought 300) of the whole consultation.
  • The EX12 postcode (Seaton) produced about 400 responses, almost twice the number in any other postcode (and there were about 100 from EX24, Colyton, on top).
  • The Seaton option (A) was the most supported of the CCG’s four options.
  • However ‘other (write-in) options’, many of which included retaining more beds than CCG envisaged, were even more supported than Option A overall. Almost half of all respondents did not support any of the CCG’s options.

At the very least, we can say that the Seaton community did a good job in creating awareness and promoting responses, with keeping beds in Seaton hospital strongly favoured – and much support for keeping many more beds than the CCG options offered.

Save the beds in Seaton hospital!

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seaton_hospitalAs almost everyone in Seaton must now know, the NEW Devon (North, East and West Devon) Clinical Commissioning Group is currently consulting on which few beds should be retained in community hospitals. Although Seaton will keep 24 beds under Options A (the CCG’s preferred option) and C, under options B and D these beds will go to Sidmouth.

Indeed having removed the beds from Ottery St Mary and Axminster hospitals, the CCG now proposes to take all beds from Honiton and Okehampton, leaving only 32 beds in Tiverton, 24 in either Seaton or Sidmouth, and 16 in either Exmouth or Exeter (Whipton), to serve 900,000 people in most of Devon.

The Town Council has expressed its grave concern at the threat to Seaton Hospital and the wider removal of community beds. With Councillor Martin Pigott taking the lead, I and other councillors have met with representatives of the Hospital League of Friends and the GP practices (who have questionnaires available for you to express your views to the CCG). We will be organising a public meeting, probably on Friday 4th November, with Neil Parish MP – the CCG will be invited to send a representative.

The community hospitals are an essential half-way house, much valued by patients, between the acute beds in the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital and care in the community. The whole point is to have them local. Taking their beds away will make only a small difference to the CCG’s ballooning deficit – the only thing that will really change it is for the Government to finally put in the extra funding which everyone knows the NHS needs. We  need to link up with others in East Devon to make this a common battle.