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Decision on controversial Ottery Hospital working group is deferred until February

Saturday, 01 December 2018 7 Comments by Claire

For the first time in living memory Ottery St Mary Town Council (OSMTC) held a full council meeting at 2.30 on a Thursday afternoon.

The Extraordinary Council Meeting was held because 4 councillors (Dobson, Edwards, Gori and Holmes) had made a request for a special meeting to rescind the decision, made at the 6 November OSMTC meeting, to set up a working group to save Ottery Hospital.

Despite the very unusual timing of the meeting, there were 25 members of the public present, many of whom took advantage of the `public speaking` arrangements. At the stroke of 2.30, the Mayor locked the front door, to stop any others entering.

When someone (who had spent very many years delivering babies in Ottery) was unable to access the meeting, she went to the back of the building to gain access that way. Councillor Ann Edwards asked “is it safe to let her in?” However she was admitted.

In public speaking Angela Glanville expressed concern about a meeting being held at 2.30pm.

Philip Algar referred to the meeting held on 6 November, when 3 councillors (Faithfull, Giles and Pratt) voted in favour of setting up a working group, and 6 councillors abstained. He said that some of the 6 abstainers thought they had won. “Some councillors construed this as a victory for them, and a defeat for the trio. That is truly breathtaking and worthy of Private Eye. It also exposes a level of ignorance of those 6 Councillors in regard to the rules on voting at meetings. and calls into question the competence of those involved.”

Emily Davis said that Ottery Hospital provides a lifeline for very many people.

Stewart Lucas said that Ottery was seeing a vast population increase; the Coleridge Medical Centre was struggling to cope. He said the Town Council was not listening; it was not taking the threat to Ottery Hospital seriously enough. He was baffled that only 3 councillors voted to set up a working group to save the hospital.

Ian Dowler was critical of OSMTC, and said “some councillors feel that they are omnipotent and infallible” and that there was “a lack of transparency”. He was critical of the 4 councillors who had called for a special meeting to overturn the decision.

In response Cllr Josephina Gori said that she acted “with honesty, impartiality and integrity” in her council work; that insufficient information had been provided. She said that on 6 November she had been asked to vote for something that was not in accord with the council`s Standing Orders.

Cllr Roger Giles asked her which Standing Order. She said that terms of reference of the working group should have been provided in advance of the decision.

Cllr Peter Faithfull said the matter should be deferred to the February meeting.

Cllr Ian Holmes said: ” I am probably one of our hardest working councillors”. His view was “if it ain`t broke, don`t fix it”.

This prompted a passionate plea from Cllr Roger Giles, who said that the hospital is “broke” and does need “fixing”. He said that the in-patient beds had been taken away - causing considerable inconvenience to older people, and putting extra and unnecessary pressure on the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital beds. Ottery Hospital had also lost its minor injuries service - causing considerable inconvenience to those requiring treatment, especially young mums and their children,

Several councillors considered that the Ottery St Mary and District Health and Care Forum (OSMDHCF) had achieved success towards saving Ottery Hospital, and that the matter should be left to the Forum.

Cllr Geoff Pratt read extracts of emails he had received from Cllr Elli Pang, Chair of the Ottery St Mary and District Health and Care Forum, dated 1 and 22 August 2018, which he said confirmed that she had been in favour of setting up a Save Ottery Hospital working group. The emails showed that Ellie Pang and Leigh Edwards, the vice chair of OSMDHCF held meetings with Cllr Geoff Pratt DCC Claire Wright and Cll Margaret Hall, Chair of West Hill Parish Council (a retired doctor).

At a meeting on the 25th October it had been agreed at the suggestion of Claire Wright an application should be made to OSMTC for a working group to be set up. The minutes of the OSMDHCF confirmed Ellie Pang’s support

Cllr Pratt stated that sufficient information had been given to the Council at the meeting of the 6th November and that the Council’s Standing Orders had been complied with.  To the 6 Councillors who abstained on 6 November he said: “You messed up, and that is the fact of the matter.”

Roger Giles formally proposed that:“This council recognises that Ottery St Mary Hospital is a vitally important health facility, which the council wishes to see used to the maximum extent for the benefit of the people of Ottery and the surrounding area, and therefore seeks to enlist the support of concerned individuals and organisations to achieve this, and therefore confirms its decision of 6 November to set up a working group to save Ottery Hospital.”

The Mayor, however, took a vote on Peter Faithfull`s proposal that the matter be deferred for consideration in February 2019, and this was agreed.


1. At 09:57 am on 02th Dec Philip Algar wrote:

One of the other points that I made to the meeting was that there was nothing more important to the people of Ottery and area than the hospital. I criticised the council for never having collectively supported those of us who had fought for years to retain it. I also drew attention to the fact that Dr Hall had offered a good reason for the creation of a working group and, by convening another meeting, to discuss a decision that had been taken three weeks earlier, her advice had been ignored. The EDDC decision to deny the hospital the status of a community asset, which I requested the town council to pursue, suggests that the outlook for the hospital, sadly, is not good. A few words in Parliament involving our MP, who has opposed the campaign from the start, does not guarantee the hospital’s future as some people believe. We have heard such comments before. The people of Ottery and the surrounding area deserve more from their council who have always been strangely reluctant to challenge the authorities who have already taken away our inpatient beds and minor injuries unit.

2. At 01:53 pm on 02th Dec David Cox wrote:

Not sure it is legal for a full council meeting to take place before 6pm - seven electors can call a parish meeting and ten electors can call a referendum (parish poll). Teignmouth Town Council voted across the political spectrum to Save Teignmouth Hospital.

3. At 06:06 pm on 02th Dec Paul F wrote:

For democracy to work there have to be checks and balances on decisions made by one body by a different body. Without these, there is no accountability and without accountability there is no transparency, and without transparency there is NO DEMOCRACY.

So for any politician to prevent a working group to review decisions made by an unelected quango CCG can only be described as undemocratic - and since it always seems to be Conservative politicians who do this, and indeed that Conservative Politicians always seem to do it, the only conclusion you can come to is that the Conservative Party and all its politicians are fundamentally opposed to real democracy!!

4. At 09:16 am on 03th Dec Chris Wakefield wrote:

A personal view hot from yesterday’s Ottery TC special meeting (and I mean hot - the room reached unhealthy temperatures towards the end) and nothing much achieved but to kick the can down the road. On the other hand there were a few highlights…

Just before I got to the meeting I saw on Claire Wright’s blog, Leigh Edwards’ letter to OSM councillors (by email?), which suggested this is a turf war - The OSM locals (Ottery Health and Care Forum) vs Westhillites (proposing a new maximum strength working group). We have here a full blooded scrap, with no holds barred it seems. They both want to save the hospital, but the question of WHO actually will/can save it, and what exactly ‘saving it’ means, is at the top of the agenda.

The business at hand was the move to rescind a decision taken quite legitimately at an earlier meeting, to set up the new power-enhanced Save the Hospital group. It was obvious that the chairman had screwed up at the earlier meeting, and that several councilors hadn’t really clocked that to abstain was not a contrary vote, and thus were mystified to find the proposal carried 3-0. The Chairman’s consequent rationale for calling a Special Meeting to fix things was ‘lack of information’ - a pitch that in the end, got them off the hook thanks to a proposal by cllr. Faithful, to seek ‘more information’ while deferring the decision to rescind until next full council (February 2019?). Before that happened though, the Council had been duffed up fairly comprehensively by the public, including a threatened public vote of no confidence in the four councillors who had called the Special Meeting. I’m not sure where this will go, but it won’t improve the atmosphere that’s for sure.

The table was notably twitchy during the meeting - all the water went in the first half hour as councillors repeatedly filled their glasses with unsteady hands (the public, which included some unbelievably well-behaved children,  had to manage without refreshment). The chairman read the riot act before starting and made frequent appeals to the clerk for instructions. Once the ‘debate’ got going Josephina Gori made an impassioned plea for something I couldn’t quite grasp, but I find it hard to get cross with Josephina because the sound of her Spanish accent tackling the interstices of local government protocol, is a bit special, even if it doesn’t press forward much on the issues at hand.

This was followed by one of Cllr. Carter’s ‘People Just Do Nothing’ routines, where he said that everything was going great and that the question was if the Forum was doing a good job, and as it was doing a good job - which was the question he asked - so - QED then, and so the hospital was as good as saved already, probably, which was good news, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, which is also good news. Suggesting that all was well with our hospital left cllr. Giles predictably apoplectic with disbelief, so he listed the problems again while the abstainers shuffled their feet and grimaced at such openly seditious talk.

I felt sorry for cllr. Pang, who by all accounts was working hard with the Forum and had indeed decided it needed some revision of strategy, given that emails she sent to cllr Pratt said as much. But she now found herself between a rock and a hard place and was left only to complain of cllr. Pratt’s outing of those emails at the meeting.

The said cllr. Pratt had the cast of a man sent from the Arapesh tribe to deliver a peace studies lecture to the Mundugumor tribe. It was never going to work, but the tale was useful for the public to hear, and made it even clearer that the fuss was an expression of parochialism and not about the best route towards an efficient NHS.

OSMTC is depressingly dysfunctional at the moment - they fiddle while Rome burns. Cllr Carter’s complacent hopes of things being OK as long as no-one rocks the boat contradicts our history, and is useless as a policy to save the hospital as anything other than an expensive office block. What I want is a community hospital, with nurses and beds in it. I believe that’s what most Ottregians want. If the fourth richest nation on the planet finds that beyond its capacity to arrange, then something is wrong and needs putting right. I will support the Forum in so far as it can help achieve that aim, but I reserve the right to wave a placard whenever I think it necessary.

The Ottery Herald caught my eye today - front page news on Ottery hospital - Matt Hancock says it has ‘a bright future’.  Job done then…

5. At 12:08 pm on 03th Dec Sandra Semple wrote:

Hancock, definition of “bright future” for Ottery Hospital = the sun will be shining when it is demolished for high cost housing!

6. At 11:22 am on 04th Dec Chris Wakefield wrote:

Perhaps this isn’t quite the place for it, but as Sandra has mentioned housing, I thought it might be worth a comment on Ottery’s expansion of late and the government’s approach to solving the housing crisis. In the not too distant future the 600 extra houses that were lumped onto Ottery by virtue of its location a mere 12 miles east of Exeter, will be completed. Of course, the new residents of Ottery are hopefully to be all local people who needed a home, but the nature of the houses on offer and the prices involved suggest otherwise. If you look at the Nationwide Building Society’s November 2018 analysis, it offers some basic info on house sales nationally by region. On new housing numbers over the last 10 years if tell us…

‘The strongest growth has been in the South West, London and the East of England, which are amongst the areas that have seen relatively strong house price growth over this period, suggesting supply is responding to price signals’.

So here in the southwest, a region not widely noted for wide-scale or high value employment opportunities (and which leads the country in the 10 year growth stats), housing provision is blossoming for no other reason than it is a great place for house builders to sell houses. The same analysis adds ...

‘ regions such as the North East and North West, where house prices are still near 2007 levels growth in supply has been more modest’.

So much for private enterprise solving the housing crisis - they just follow the money, selling at a pace that will optimise profits and maintain prices, which therefore remain at a level beyond the scope of many first time buyers. And why shouldn’t they do this? - they are private companies after all - they don’t do government. But neither does the government, and there’s the problem.

Have a look yourself -

7. At 12:27 pm on 05th Dec Robert Crick wrote:

Many thanks to Chris Wakefield for his closing paragraph, the neatest statement I have seen summarising the problem in the nation’s economic and political inadequacy. Not directly related to the attempt to deny the right of local representatives to get information about the plan to close your hospital - but relevant.

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