A TOP NHS official has promised to reveal the financial reasoning behind controversial proposals to get rid of some community hospital beds and Minor Injuries Units (MIUs) across East Devon, and look into alternative options.

Councillors, GPs and volunteers met to discuss, and challenge proposals first announced in September by the Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which is £14m in debt.

The CCG said its aim was to improve care in the community, increasing the number of healthcare professionals and therefore close hospital beds to fund this change.

The CCG launched a 12-week consultation process in September which was due to end in December, but it has been extended until February 15.

Under the plans, all inpatient beds will close at Ottery St Mary, Axminster and Crediton hospitals, as well as Ottery’s MIU.

Meanwhile, Exmouth, Honiton and Tiverton will become Urgent Care Centres serving the surrounding communities.

The meeting of the Wakley Stakeholder Group, set up to help the CCG deal with the challenges they face in Eastern locality which includes, Honiton, Ottery St Mary, Sidmouth, Seaton and Axminster, was held this month at East Devon District Council’s Sidmouth headquarters.

The CCG has not yet confirmed if there are going to be similar forums for other localities facing inpatient bed losses.

Stakeholders include ward members, as well as GPs from Sidmouth, Ottery St Mary and Axminster, and Ottery St Mary, Colyton, Seaton and Axminster hospitals league of friends groups. In addition, the Save Our Ottery Hospital volunteer group are seeking membership.

Speaking at the meeting, Tamara Powderley, head of commissioning for the Eastern Locality CCG promised to dedicate another meeting to the financial basis which has informed the CCG’s current proposals.

The group resolved that the CCG would set the agenda to reflect when desired information will be available.

But, to the dismay of some members, there appears to be no timescale for decision making and Ms Powderley confirmed that there was no set date scheduled for an ultimate decision.

The group suggested five alternatives to the current closure proposals, with points one and two due to come back before the group at its next meeting on February 4:

No change to the current status quo

Sufficient capacity to satisfy all staffing issues/resilience in each hospital

Lobbying Government to address under-funding of Devon

Provision the MIU at a level such that residents of local divisions do not need to attend the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital (RD&E) Accident & Emergency department

Develop an understanding of how are communities could benefit from the commissioning of integrated provision of community hospitals and acute hospitals

Questions are also due to be answered at the next meeting, including how expensive community hospital beds are in comparison to RD&E beds.

Honiton ward member, Councillor Mike Allen, said: “The key to good health care is rapid recovery and prevention so it seems rather silly to close facilities and fill them with administrators rather than patients.”

Dr James Vann of Axminster Hospital, for which around 7,000 have signed a petition against bed closures there, said he did not think there had been “sufficient discussion” before the decision to close beds at the unit.

Ottery St Mary ward member, Councillor Claire Wright, who has long called for details of the financial justification for the proposals and said the lack of information is akin to a lack of transparency in the process, enquired about the level of threat for hospital buildings being transferred to NHS property services and therefore lost.

She also called for clarity on how Devon’s historical under-funding of the NHS England budget was having an impact on the CCG, and also, how many RD&E admissions could have been dealt with by MIUs.

On behalf of the Patient Participation Group in Sidmouth, Di Fuller acknowledged that the town’s hospital was set to increase its bed capacity, however expressed concern at the hospital becoming “swamped” with demand as beds are lost elsewhere around the district.

Axminster ward member, Councillor Andrew Moulding also requested details of the CCG’s financial reasoning behind their proposals because “inpatient beds are a very small percentage of the budget”.

“And experience tells me that you don’t save money from the small bits, but the large,” he added.

Ms Powderley agreed to dedicate a meeting to finances “in relation to what the CCG is trying to achieve”.

She also agreed to refresh an “extensive” public transport survey.

Dr Vann, added: “There are a lot of people suffering because of these proposals right now, those who have lost beds and staff.

“The CCG has some responsibility to produce a result quickly, having made these proposals public some months ago. It can’t go on and on.”