Minister’s visit does not dispel fears over Ottery hospital’s future

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock. Picture: Philippa Davies

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock. Picture: Philippa Davies - Credit: Philippa Davies

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care says he is ‘optimistic’ for the future of Ottery hospital, but would not ‘categorically’ state that it was safe from being sold off.

A visit to Ottery St Mary Hospital by the Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Wednesday has failed to reassure health campaigners concerned for the hospital’s future.

A group who waited outside the hospital to speak to him were shocked that instead, Mr Hancock hurried into his ministerial car and was driven off, without talking to any of them.

Many local people fear that the hospital will be sold off to raise money for the cash-strapped NHS.

Speaking to the Herald, Mr Hancock said he was ‘optimistic’ about its future, and emphasised that the current policy is to provide community health services close to people’s homes.

But when asked if he could ‘categorically’ reassure local residents that Ottery Hospital would not be sold, he did not give a direct answer.

He said: “I’m optimistic about the future, because I can see the opportunities, which is right in the direction that services want to go.

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“I can understand that some people have been raising concerns, but the community leaders I met are very engaged in the project and I look forward to working with them.”

He was referring to a meeting he had just attended at the hospital with Dr Simon Kerr from the local Clinical Commissioning Group; Adel Jones, a community services director at the RD&E NHS Trust; Em Wilkinson-Brice, the Trust’s deputy chief executive; Elli Pang, chairman of the Ottery Health and Care Forum; and East Devon MP Hugo Swire, to discuss best practice in community health services.

Earlier, Mr Hancock had been to the Budleigh Salterton Health and Wellbeing Hub, which provides a mix of private services, NHS clinical treatments and community facilities.

He described it as ‘incredibly impressive and a model for the future of community services’ and praised ‘the level of collaboration between the NHS, the council, voluntary and charitable organisations and the local community’.

Hugo Swire said: “We’ve had all the decision-makers in one room this afternoon, and we’re looking positively at the future of this hospital.”

Outside the hospital, a small group of health campaigners, including the Ottery county councillor Claire Wright, were waiting to speak to the minister.

She said: “I was hoping to have a quick chat with Mr Hancock as he left the building.

“We were waiting for him out the front, we were asked to leave the premises even though the hospital building and its premises are funded by the taxpayer. I said ‘no, we’re going to wait for Mr Hancock to come out’.

“We then followed the car around the back and waited for him at the back; he didn’t materialise, and then the car put its blue flashing lights on and sped off really fast.

“What’s he scared of? I only wanted to ask him whether the hospital was safe, and he could reassure us on that, because he has the power to save this hospital and all the others as well.

“But he didn’t want to answer those questions.”