Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead

Just three Ottery Town Councillors back a working group to protect Ottery Hospital ...

Wednesday, 07 November 2018 10 Comments by Claire

... But with eight abstentions, the proposal was voted through!

For the first time in many years, I left an Ottery Town Council meeting in pure frustration last night, at councillors arguing against the creation of a working group to help secure the future of Ottery St Mary Hospital.

A straightforward and uncontroversial proposal… or at least, so I thought!

A few weeks ago, I met with Cllr Geoff Pratt (EDDC ward member for Ottery Rural and Ottery Town Councillor), Margaret Hall (retired GP and chair of West Hill Parish Council), Elli Pang (Ottery Town Councillor and chair of the local Health and Care Team Forum) and her colleague, Leigh Edwards.

We discussed the risks facing Ottery St Mary Hospital and the risk of it being sold off for development by NHS Property Services – and how we might move things forward in a productive way.

Currently the hospital is less than 40 per cent occupied and a whopping £200,000 a year rent must be paid to the company, which is wholly owned by the Secretary of State for Health.  The rent is mostly covered by NHS England at the moment, with some paid by the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital, which runs the services there.

Cllr Pang said at this meeting and at the town council meeting last night that it was difficult to make progress on this for a number of reasons, namely trying unsuccessfully to engage key stakeholders and also having the clout to deal with NHS Property Services, which is well known for the aggressive way it deals with its tenants rents, often increasing the rent suddenly and significantly, without apparently caring whether or not the tenant can actually pay.

At the end of our meeting we agreed to ask Ottery Town Council to agree to setting up a working group specifically to move things forward, which would have the advantage of being part of a legally constituted body and one where other people from other areas could be invited onto it.

I am not a member of Ottery Town Council, I attend as the Devon County Councillor and to give my report. I asked to contribute to the debate, however, as the subject of the hospital is close to my heart and I have spent many years working to try and protect it and prevent the loss of beds.

As one councillor after another spoke it was clear, apart from Cllrs Geoff Pratt and Roger Giles, that the others were opposed to the working group being created.

Various spurious reasons were cited for being against the working group, including:
-There was already a working group set up (there was not)
-It would be better for such a group to be independent from the town council (no, it would have more clout and relevance to be part of the town council)
-It was duplication (no, it was building on the work of the Health and Care Team Forum)
-It might close down the Health and Care Team Forum (it would not)
-Our proposal was unclear (it was perfectly clear)
-We were insulting the Health and Care Team Forum (no one did this)

After trying to reason with the town council, and then hear several of them speak afterwards as though I had said nothing, I felt my frustrations boil over.

I couldn’t bear to hear any more utter nonsense on the subject, so I prepared to leave before the vote took place, as I could see which way it was going. 

Before I left I told them that there was absolutely no reason whatsoever that the town council should not support the proposal and if Ottery Hospital was sold off to developers in a few years time, that each and every town councillor who voted against the proposal would need to examine their consciences.

After I left Cllr Giles asked for a recorded vote so that the minutes listed the way each councillor voted. This proposal was voted down.

I was informed later that after about an HOUR of debate, the vote took place. The councillors who objected to the working group all abstained, apparently on the assumption that their abstentions would result in the failure of the proposal.  Instead the vote was carried with eight abstentions and three votes in favour.  This was met with much disbelief.

Several councillors then asked that it be recorded in the minutes that they abstained because the proposal was unclear.

On the way out I slammed the glass door, which I am told this morning, resulted in the glass fracturing. This is regrettable.

I have agreed to reimburse the council for the replacement glass, which will need to be in instalments.

A councillor (I am not clear who as the message was relayed by the clerk) has demanded I apologise for “storming out of the meeting.”

My reply was:  “I will apologise when those town councillors who sought to obstruct the safeguarding of Ottery Hospital by arguing against setting up the working group and abstaining in the vote, apologise to the residents of Ottery.”

I now look forward to the first meeting and getting on with trying to safeguard our hospital.

Voting in favour of the working group were:  Roger Giles, Geoff Pratt and Peter Faithfull.

Those abstaining were:  Anne Edwards, Elli Pang, Paul Bartlett, Ian Holmes, Josefina Gori, Lyn Harding, Paul Carter and Glyn Dobson.

NB.  Cllr Elli Pang has since contacted me to say she felt unable to vote because she had an interest as the Chair of Ottery’s Health and Care Team Forum.

NBB. My own website won’t allow me to post a comment in response to the comments below!  So I would just like to say a huge thank you for the very kind offer of contributing to the cost of the repair of the glass/door but I can’t accept it. Thank you so much though for your kindness.


1. At 04:49 pm on 07th Nov Tim wrote:

Sadly we have come to expect such a lack of care from certain quarters about the future of our local hospitals.  Despite this Claire, her colleagues Martin on DCC and Roger Giles at EDDC, have fought long and hard for their and the wider community - now joined by Peter Faithfull and Geoff Pratt on this issue I am pleased to see.
I am not from Ottery but recognise that hospital’s value in the jigsaw that is health care in the region. The least I can do is show my support in some small but practical way and if Claire has to pay for the door, I am willing to make a donation towards the cost. Others may wish to join me in showing our support for her in a similar way. I know how she might have felt, I have stormed out of more than one meeting in sheer disbelief at the so-called democracy.  (Drop me an email in due course Claire please)

2. At 05:07 pm on 07th Nov Deborah Dunsford wrote:

Claire, you are so right here, I would have been half crazed with frustration in your position. My mother died in Ottery Hospital. Being able to visit her every day made a massive difference to my and her quality of life. She’d spent some time at RDE and getting there is so hard. But the issue with local hospitals is not just in relation to older people. Once retired, and as if one has all the time in the world, the kerfuffle involved in getting to RDE is less impact than when you are trying to fit health into a busy working life. My mother was matron in charge at a hospital like Honiton/Ottery.  Through her I appreciate so much the role of these hospitals, and the need for at least medium term security of tenure. Necessary if the efficient deployment of services is to be planned and budgeted. The window will bring its own good karma back to you.

3. At 05:31 pm on 07th Nov Philip Algar wrote:

As a mere member of the public but interested in what matters to the people of Ottery, I have attended dozens of town council meetings and have seen the councillors at work. I have been pleased that some of my ideas have been adopted but I have never understood the overall OSMTC stance on the local hospital. This is not to deny the hard work that some councillors devote to Ottery life. I have failed to persuade councillors, as a group, to show collective support for the continued existence of our hospital. Quite simply, as our representatives, they should be seen to be taking a clear position on something that is of prime importance to local people. I have sensed that most councillors felt that any comment would immediately upset those who are taking the decisions. Indeed, they seem frightened of taking any such action. Surely, those who have spent many hours working to save the inpatient beds and minor injuries unit, and the local voters, deserved the council’s public support? Sadly, nothing happened. Then, more recently, I asked the council to seek community asset status for the hospital and warned them, that if this sensible request was denied by the East Devon District Council, they should prepare a response. The suggestion was turned down by EDDC but, as far as I know, no action was taken by the town council. 
I have learned, over the years, that OSMTC, as a group, have no intention of putting their heads above the parapet in an effort to defend the hospital. The debate that you described so vividly was a disgrace and the people of Ottery and district should note that the majority of the councillors abstained and defended their stance with irrelevant and ignorant reasons. 
I am disgusted by the majority of councillors’ negative attitude on this issue. Claire, not for the first time, you have said and acted on what matters to the local community and you are to be congratulated and thanked for exposing our supine councillors. Let’s remember all this when the next local council elections occur.

4. At 05:33 pm on 07th Nov Pam Squire wrote:

Clair, I understand your frustration. For many years I represented fishermen in the South west. When dealing with councils, bureaucrats, Governments, I always found common sense went out of the window in favour of self interest and party politics. They will regard you as a thorn in the side and I have a horrible suspicion, thwarting you may be of far more importance than the interests of the people of Ottery. Don’t give up girl. Remember, don’t give up, get even. I have to note, I was very interested in your explanation of the rent situation ‘re the hospital, robbing Peter to pay Paul popped to mind. ????

5. At 08:31 am on 09th Nov Paul F wrote:

It never ceases to amaze me that, just when I believe that Conservative councillors reached rock bottom in their last council decision relating to Conservative Government policies by putting Party before the needs of local Residents, they somehow manage to dig deeper into their dark souls and disregard the community in an even more stupid and destructive fashion by voting yet again to support Government policies - policies that will not only reduce much needed public services for all of us (including themselves) but will have the greatest impact on the most vulnerable people in our community who can cope with it the least (like the elderly, the poor, the homeless, indeed anyone who cannot afford to own a car or to use a taxi).

However, I can’t help feeling that the destructive nature of this Party before Community actually runs deeper and has an even greater impact than you might think. Perhaps it is local services like the OSM Hospital that provide a sense of local community. When all public services are centralised into big cities, and large numbers of local people have to relocate in order to be within reach of services that cannot be reached unless you own a car, I can’t help but feel that the sense of community will go with them. I fear that THIS will be the legacy of Cllrs Edwards, Pang, Bartlett, Holmes, Gori, Harding, Carter and Dobson.

6. At 05:14 pm on 09th Nov Mick Stability wrote:

I’d like to endorse the views expressed so eloquently by Paul F above, and add that it is a testament to the skill set of our current Ottery Town Councillors that , by abstaining, they have brought about that which they sought to oppose. Rather than further scraping the barrel, it is clear that more able candidates must put themselves forward at the next local election.

7. At 07:32 pm on 09th Nov Roger Giles wrote:

Most present members of OSMTC were either co-opted or elected unopposed. There have been few recent elections to OSMTC, because insufficient people have put themselves forward. This means that the public is denied a choice, and that unelected councillors have no mandate. The next elections are on Thursday 2 May 2019. It is vitally important that good people DO put themselves forward.

8. At 12:34 am on 10th Nov Jack Rowland wrote:

Sorry to read what happened at the OSM Council meeting. You may be interested to see how we have organised ourselves in Seaton as Seaton Area Health Matters and our website that has recently gone live. The notes of our recent meeting with RDE are now on there.

9. At 12:11 pm on 10th Nov Cherry Blayney wrote:

Thank goodness there are people prepared to continue to fight for the rights of the people of this area.
Ottery Hospital should belong to this area. Originally it was set up as a charity for the people around here.
I will never understand how the community lost possession of it. I can only conclude it was apathy and the same nature that was shown by the majority of the town council. Shame on them
But also shame on me. I do not know who is my town councillor. I did not know the meeting referred to was taking place. I do not know the appropriate people to lobby(I did try to find who was in charge of decisions;even who was in charge of the league of friends)Got no where
I can see the hospital being quietly dismantled and everyone except a few old timers ,who remember what an asset it was,with it minor injuries unit,rehabilitation wards,and inpatient dementia ward as well as the out patient treatments,just taking that for granted. In the same way it is taken for granted that we,the people of the area,have lost any say in the matter

10. At 07:24 pm on 12th Nov Sandra Semple wrote:

Interesting that not one of the abstaining councillors has had the guts to come to this page to explain their behaviour.

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