Alan White from NHS Property Services attended the briefing along with Martin Sheldon from Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group (NEW Devon CCG).

Mr White told councillors that the private company, which is wholly owned by the secretary of state for health, will sign the contract to take over the 12 community hospitals, including Ottery St Mary, Sidmouth, Seaton, Axminster and Exmouth and Budleigh Salterton, on 1 October.

In May, around 200 people gathered to protest against the company taking over Ottery St Mary Hospital and charging rents at market value, despite the significant deficit in the Devon NHS.

The transfer had been set to take place last month.  The delay we were informed, was due to ongoing discussions over the current maintenance of the hospitals.

He said the transaction would be complete by December, at which point the hospitals would transfer from the ownership of Northern Devon Healthcare Trust, to NHS Property Services.

Councillors were told that charging market rents to the local NHS, which the company will do from the property transfer date, helps the NHS understand the true cost of occupancy.

I asked what market rate the CCG would be charged by NHS PS.

Alan White replied that the figure for 12 community hospitals was £3.1m a year.

Councillors await a rental cost breakdown for each community hospital.

I asked what would happen if the local NHS (which is in debt to the tune of around £40m) couldn’t pay the rent.  Martin Sheldon replied that the difference in what was being paid currently to maintain the hospitals and what NHS PS would charge, was not significant.

I asked what this figure was and am awaiting a response.

I said that some people in other parts of the country had reported that NHS PS had taken over their hospital buildings and were taking rents but not maintaining the buildings.

I asked what the annual rent income was for the community hospitals NHS PS owns compared with the annual maintenance bill.  I am awaiting this information.

Mr White insisted that the hospitals would still remain the property of the NHS, despite now being wholly owned by a political postholder.

I asked about Budleigh Salterton Hospital which has been closed for two and a half years after the decision was taken to shut its beds and turn it into a health hub.

We were told that the situation had not been helped by the transfer (from the local NHS to NHS PS).

We were also informed that Budleigh Salterton Hospital’s League of Friends (a charity) is taking on 70 per cent of the lease, with the NHS taking on the remaining 30 per cent.

This model is unlikely to be able to be replicated elsewhere due to affordability. And in any case how is it morally right that a charity pays the majority of commercial rent for a hospital building?!

I am anxiously awaiting a paper due out later this month from the Success Regime, the government taskforce parachuted in to dramatically reduce the health service deficit in Devon.  Significant cuts to services are expected. 

Four community hospitals in south Devon are set to be closed and sold off.