Community link to Sidmouth Victoria Hospital ‘must be maintained’

Sidmouth Victoria Hospital Ref shs 3264-50-14AW. Picture: Alex Walton.

Sidmouth Victoria Hospital Ref shs 3264-50-14AW. Picture: Alex Walton. - Credit: Archant

Sidmouth Victoria Hospital fundraisers are determined to hold NHS bosses to account as the community-funded premises are transferred to new owners – who will charge rent at the market rate.

NHS Property Services, also known as PropCo, will take on the hospital on December 1. The company does not profit and reinvests proceeds, but it will dispose of properties it judges are no longer needed.

Sidmouth Victoria Hospital has undergone a massive revamp since 1989, with much of the £4.5million bill coming from residents – and comforts fund chairman Graham Vincent is determined to ensure the community continues to have a say.

“We have two options,” he told Monday’s town council meeting. “One is what happened 60 years ago when the regional hospital board owned the buildings.”

At the time, six or seven dignitaries worked with the board to keep an eye on the buildings to see what improvements may be needed.

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“They were the link between the health board and the community,” said Mr Vincent. “By doing that we hold on to a local interest.

“The other option is to form a community interest company (CIC) to lease the hospital from PropCo. It’s always been our policy to work with whoever owns the hospital.

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“If we lost that local interest, we might lose out on donations. That’s no good to the local community.”

Mr Vincent said that PropCo has sold off surplus properties worth £58million and warned it cannot later be brought back under public ownership – ‘it will have gone forever’.

But he insists the hospital is well placed for the future: “Other community hospitals have lost their inpatient beds, but we’ve gained inpatient beds, and still we’ve got a minor injuries unit. We’ve got a completely new hospital, rebuilt over the last 25 years with community money. Sidmouth Hospital is stronger than any other community hospital in Devon.”

As the Herald was going to press yesterday, Mr Vincent was due to meet members of the Devon County League of Friends about the CIC.

He had a separate meeting planned with PropCo representatives.

A letter to stakeholders from NHS Property Services said charging market rents will provide the money needed for the ‘ongoing renewal’ of the estate. It also helps the NHS understand the ‘true cost’ of occupation.

It said groups like the comforts fund have raised ‘vital’ funds but the buildings are owned by the NHS and the ‘donation does not in itself provide rights of ownership’.

The transfer was triggered by the change in provider from the Northern Devon NHS Healthcare Trust to the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital’s trust, scheduled for October 1.

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