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Health scrutiny committee hears: Closing all Torrington Hospital’s beds will be “cost neutral”

Friday, 16 January 2015 1 Comment by Claire

A north Devon GP has admitted that a decision to close all Torrington Hospital’s beds will not save the health service any money, and will instead be “cost neutral.”

The revelation came at today’s health and wellbeing scrutiny committee, where representatives from NEW Devon Clinical Commissioning Group were defending their decision to close all the beds at Torrington Hospital.

Dr Wormesley made the comments after I asked some questions about the cost saving.  The figure reported in the papers was just under £250,000, but after I asked for clarification a couple of times on the cost saving, versus the spend on the provision of more services in the new bedless hospital, the committee received the information.

The issue has rumbled on for about two years following a sudden decision to shut the beds which then had to be reversed, as the rules on public consultation had not been followed.

NEW Devon Clinical Commissioning Group has now made a formal decision to close the beds after a long period of public consultation.

But there were many concerns expressed about the service set up in place of the beds and the report that was submitted to today’s meeting.

I listed a number of worries and suggested that the committee may consider referring the decision to the Secretary of State for Health.  This was described as “sensational” by Cllr Jerry Brook (Con) who told the committee he believed the report to be “honest and sensible.”

After some debate and being reminded of the virtually impossible new rules (thanks to the relentlessly damaging Health and Social Care Act) on referring decisions to the Secretary of State, I seconded a proposal by Cllr Andy Boyd (Con) to delve deeper into the mechanics of the situation, before deciding what to do.

The Eastern Locality of NEW Devon CCG say that their plans to move beds at Ottery and Axminster to other hospitals will save £500,000. But the cost of new services to be provided in place of the beds has not been costed.

Public health funding is an example of “inequality”

Director of public health, Dr Virginia Pearson’s frustration bubbled over during her budget report as she described how she felt that Devon’s public health service was being “penalised” for providing a good service. She said if there was an example of “inequality” it was that Devon’s public health budget was the seventh lowest in the country and had been for many years.

Government promises £250m to financially challenged health trusts
Mid Devon GP, Dr David Jenner, from the NEW Devon CCG - during his report on the reduction of the plans for controversial “disinvestments” or restrictions on surgery eligibility - told the committee that the NHS in Devon was waiting for its slice of £250m, which the government had promised to financially challenged health trusts. 

The money is not expected to go anywhere near fixing the money problems but must be pursued. I proposed that the committee write to ministers supporting the CCG in achieving an adequate amount of the funding.  This was agreed.

Meeting to be set up to ensure the voice of the patient is not lost
It struck me upon reading the reports of NEW Devon CCG about the consultation relating to the proposed loss of beds and minor injuries units in East Devon, that the narrative was so bland. It didn’t even talk in terms of objections to the plans to shut beds at Ottery and Axminster - just comments. 

I also observed that the North Devon situation was very similar. We had received a letter from a campaigner, but it wasn’t send around with the papers and it was really pot luck whether councillors read it.  There is no public speaking facility at health and wellbeing scrutiny committee either, which compounds the issue.  Essentially, it does feel very much that the committee is in danger of losing the patient voice.

I proposed that a group meet to look at this, which the chairman agreed to.

Uncertainty over community hospitals means staff leave
Two Northern Devon Healthcare Trust representatives told the committee that the ongoing uncertainties over the future of community hospitals in Devon have contributed to the loss of staff, which has seen Axminster Hospital’s patients be moved to Seaton hurriedly, due to the hazards of lone working, which is unsafe and contrary to health service regulations.

There is a national shortage of nurses.

I asked whether the rumour mill had meant that nursing staff had left Axminster Hospital, worried over their job security. Representatives replied that this was a factor and also that the uncertainty hanging over Devon community hospitals, it was an ongoing problem.

Lack of staffing is another reason that NEW Devon CCG want to move beds from Ottery and Axminster to other hospitals in East Devon.

Here’s the webcast of today’s meeting –


1. At 09:16 am on 17th Jan Roger Giles wrote:

The news that transfer of beds from Torrington Hospital will not save any money is no surprise at all.
In my twenty years on Devon County Council, only a couple of Devon schools were closed. And closure was on educational grounds when pupil numbers had fallen to a very low level – not to save money.
It was acknowledged that closing small schools did not save money. In addition to ripping the heart out of the community, five year olds would have to be bussed to distant communities at a cost to DCC, teachers would be paid to work at the new school, and books and all the other teaching aids had to be provided in the new school.
No wonder the NEWDevon CCG has resisted demands to provide proper detailed costings for its proposal to transfer beds from Ottery Hospital to Honiton, and from Axminster Hospital to Seaton.

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