My proposal, which was supported unanimously by the committee, was based on what I (and many north Devon residents) believe is evidence of poorer care, following the controversial closure of Torrington Hospital’s beds by NEW Devon Clinical Commissioning Group.
Feelings were running high at last Thursday’s meeting, which was attended by dozens of residents, as well as being filmed by ITV and the BBC.
The committee was sent a number of worrying and heartfelt patient letters collected by the Save Torrington hospital campaign group, recounting details of difficult deaths and people struggling and pushed to stay in their own homes when they felt they needed to be in hospital.
All the authors of the letters felt that they would have had much better care if Torrington Hospital had remained open.
A poorer level of care for the dying appeared to me to be a common theme, which was particularly sad.
One of my concerns was that many local GPs may be opposed to Torrington’s beds being closed … but trying to get an answer out of the NEW Devon CCG representatives on this was apparently impossible!
Despite asking Dr Wormesely (himself a GP) this question three times (and an intervention by the chairman) he would not give me a straight answer. Finally, patience running out I told him that I would draw the conclusion that there was significant opposition to the bed closures from GPs. Dr Wormesley asserted I was making an assumption, but didn’t deny it.
Since the decision to close Torrington hospital’s beds, the NEW Devon Clinical Commissioning Group has made a decision to shut around half north Devon’s community hospital beds, claiming that they are not needed. There will now be a consultation on this.
Torrington is now a community hub and representatives now say they have saved around £250,000 by closing the beds. However, at the health scrutiny meeting in January, I was told by representatives that the shift was cost neutral.
Moving on to the patient stories I made a case for a special meeting to be held to look at the possibility of referral to the secretary of state for health on the basis of the decision not being in the best interests of the health service in its area – which is one of the formal tests set out in scrutiny guidance.
I emphasised the relevance to the rest of the county’s community hospitals which seem to me to be all at risk, if not now, then in the future.
I said that if we didn’t at least investigate whether a referral was possible, we would be failing the people of Devon and in our own duty.
In East Devon, Ottery Hospital and Axminster Hospital are of course, at risk of losing their beds and minor injuries services – and all East Devon hospitals are set to lose their minor injuries units except Exmouth and Honiton.
The health and wellbeing scrutiny committee is the only committee that is statutorily set up to examine health services.
My proposal was put to the vote and was unanimously supported.
Dr Wormesley demanded I withdraw my statement about care being poorer without Torrington’s beds.
Having been passed the CCG’s Estates Strategy which indicated that Torrington hospital was set to be put up for sale, I asked whether there were any plans for this.
The answer was no.
I asked the question again, indicating that I had the document which stated that Torrington Hospital was being set aside for selling off.
This caused a bit of hesitation. One of the GPs said that I had an old document (2013). I asked whether the hospital had been taken off the relevant list of assets for sale. “Yes… as far as I know” came the reply….
All this is of course, very relevant to our own situation and battle to retain community hospitals in East Devon – and that is why it is so important that Torrington’s situation is examined so very carefully.
Here is the webcast. There are technical problems (hopefully fixed soon) and several councillors are not listed for quick reference, including me, however, the main exchange I had with Dr Wormesley, is at around 01.24.38.