And in what became a rather heated debate, one conservative, Cllr Richard Scott, disgracefully accused the assiduous and polite Independent Seaton councillor, Martin Shaw of abusing his right to address councillors.
I had requested an item on community hospital buildings at today’s Devon County Council Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee meeting, as there is a continual threat in the air of the possibility that the buildings may be declared surplus to requirements and be sold off. There remains anxiety and concern in local communities as a result.
Last month, NEW Devon Clinical Commissioning Group was forced to deny it had “any plans” to declare Honiton and Seaton Hospitals surplus to requirements, following comments made at a campaign meeting.
Dr Simon Kerr, the GP who was quoted in the notes published, later said his comments had been misinterpreted.
The Estates Strategy, which will set out what is proposed to be done with the buildings owned by the local NHS, is due out soon, possibly as early as next month.
In presenting my case I set out how the committee had been unable to secure assurances from health service managers for a long time that buildings were safe, that Dartmouth Hospital is being sold off and that the ownership of 12 community hospitals in Eastern Devon was in the hands of NHS Property Services which was charging over £3m rents for the upkeep of the buildings.
I believe these rents are still being met by NHS England, but this is only a temporary measure and soon the bill will fall on the doormat of the deeply in deficit NEW Devon Clinical Commissioning Group.
Cllr Brian Greenslade seconded my proposal.
Speaking in support were also Cllr Carol Whitton (Labour) and Cllr Nick Way (Libdem).
For some reason the conservative councillors were all opposed to my proposal. Several said there was no evidence, that it was just speculation that there was even a risk to the buildings.
Conservative councillor, Jeff Trail, didn’t appear to like my proposal but said he thoroughly supported Cllr Carol Whitton’s position, which was rather confusing as she had just said she backed me!
Cllr John Berry didn’t like my recommendation because the committee didn’t own the buildings. He wanted us to write to the CCG to ask what the status of the buildings was instead.
Cllr Sylvia Russell thought she had heard an NHS manager say at some point at today’s meeting that the buildings were safe so there was nothing to worry about. No one else seemed to recall this.
Cllr Richard Scott dismissed my proposal as “speculation” and claimed there was “no evidence” to back up my concerns.
Referring to Cllr Martin Shaw, who had just set out calmly and eloquently the concerns of his own community of Seaton, Cllr Scott added: “In some respects this is an abuse of a right to speak at this committee. There’s nothing here to consider.”
Chair, Sara Randall Johnson, wanted to take account of Paul Crabb’s view, which was that some hospitals might be old and in a poor state of repair. I replied that we should have a simple and clear proposal or the CCG would drive a coach and horses through it.
I reminded the committee (yet again) that our committee was the only legally constituted check on health services in the county and it is our job to act on issues of public concern, which this very much was.
I added that it was important to take a position now and before the Estates Strategy was published so our views could inform the strategy.
My words fell on deaf ears. I had genuinely thought, that despite all the past political shenanigans on that committee – and there have been many – that the Conservatives might have backed this one, as not a single member of their own communities would have surely wanted them to vote a different way.
There was every reason for the entire committee to be unanimously in favour of my proposal.
What a huge shame.
Voting in favour: Me, Brian Greenslade (LibDem – Barnstaple North), Nick Way (LibDem – Crediton), Carol Whitton (Labour – St David’s and Haven Banks).
Voting against: (All Conservative): John Berry (Cullompton and Bradninch), John Peart (Kingsteignton and Teign Estuary) Sylvia Russell (Teignmouth) Richard Scott (Lympstone and Woodbury), Paul Crabb (Ilfracombe), Andrew Saywell (Torrington Rural), Jeff Trail (Lympstone and Woodbury)
The debate is available to view at item 10 from this link – https://devoncc.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/325480
Pic: Arguing my case this afternoon (to my right Cllr Brian Greenslade, who seconded my proposal)