And so did our local MP, Hugo Swire.

After I had spoken Mr Swire also said a few words, mainly trying to claim that there was absolutely no risk at all to the hospital and that he had no idea where we were all getting ideas that the hospital was at risk.

The general reaction was scepticism, heckling and derision.

After he had spoken there was a hubbub of angry conversation so I chaired an impromptu q&a session with Mr Swire and several residents who were keen to ask questions about the NHS, local hospitals and the role of NHS Property Services.

My speech is below:

Around 20 years ago, local people raised £250,000 for this beautiful little hospital.

It has a capacity for 24 beds, but they have been slowly removed over the years.

And then in September 2014 the NEW Devon clinical commissioning group announced that it was going to close its beds – and all the beds at Axminster and Crediton hospitals.

The stroke unit currently here will move to the RD&E probably later this year, leaving a building that the CCG want to turn into a health hub….

Unfortunately, NHS Property Services, a limited company wholly owned by the secretary of state for health, has seen a golden opportunity to pounce on 12 hospitals in Eastern Devon and turn them from beloved centres of care, into cash cows for the government.

NHS Property Svcs official remit is to manage and maintain NHS buildings. They will be charging commercial rents to the local NHS, which is around £80m in the red. Any properties that are “surplus to requirements” will be sold off.

But just what is surplus to requirements?

One health trust elsewhere in the country can’t afford the commercial rents charged by NHS Property Services. So instead of holding its clinics in the community hospital, it is forced to hire the church hall.

Earlier this week I received the following email from a local resident:

“Dear Claire

“I spoke to you yesterday about Molesey hospital in Surrey.

The annual rent that they are being charged for the building and site is £514,000, this for a property that they had previously owned.

“For this money the property and grounds are supposed to be maintained but the only work that has been carried out since the hospital was handed over to NHS Property Services has been carried out by and paid for by the Friends of Molesey Hospital.

“In fact , NHS Property Services have stopped some work ,some of which would have improved the building and reduced heating costs, being carried out.
“They are now trying to close the hospital all together.”

Our MP’s response has been deeply disappointing. He claims our hospitals are not at risk, yet advises us to form a community interest company and take out a lease to protect Ottery Hospital …. from own his government?!

Mr Swire claims to be helping Budleigh Hospital, which had its beds shut about 3 years ago in order to become a health hub. So far the hospital is still shut… why?
So what next?

The good news is that there are reliable rumours that the transfer of the 12 hospitals in Eastern Devon is now deferred from 1 June until possibly the autumn, due to wrangling over the details of the contract.

The terms of which NHS PS will not allow me to see. I wonder what have they got to hide?

So what can you do?

Well now we have more time, which is very encouraging, I propose we do the following:

– Attend the health and wellbeing scrutiny meeting at Devon County Council on Monday 20 June at 2pm. I am a member of the committee and NHS PS is on the agenda. There is very likely to be a public demonstration before the meeting on the steps of county hall. Look out for details in the local press and on my blog.

– I don’t know about you but every time I think about this my blood boils. Express your disgust at the government’s games with our beloved hospital, in the local press. Write a letter for publication.

Copy it to Mr Swire. He is currently defending NHS PS and implying in local media that I am scaremongering!

– Sign on the online petition that we are about to set up and circulate …

– Email Cllr Richard Westlake the chair of Devon’s health and wellbeing scrutiny committee, with your views in time for the 20 June meeting

– Email Sarah Wollaston MP, chair of the health select committee, urging her to set up an inquiry into NHS PS

– The Ottery Hospital League of Friends work quietly and very hard behind the scenes. Join them. They need you now more than ever.

– I will put all these campaign ideas on my website and social media with more detail.

This avaricious and despicable government seems to want to destroy our NHS. Let’s do all we can to stop it.

Now we have more time, let’s fight!

Save our hospitals!