Probe into hospital beds decision

Hospital campaigners outside County Hall

Hospital campaigners outside County Hall - Credit: Archant

A controversial decision to cut community hospital beds in East Devon is to be investigated by a county taskforce.

Members of the NHS Northern, Eastern and Western Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) governing body defended their plan before a scrutiny committee on Monday, saying it is a ‘safe, sustainable and resilient’ option.

However, the decision – which includes the closure of community beds in Ottery St Mary, Axminster and Crediton hospitals - has met with a barrage of criticism from the district council, MPs, campaigners and community representatives.

Speaking before Devon County Council’s (DCC) health and wellbeing committee, Councillor Andrew Moulding reiterated the view that the decision was premature.

He read a letter from MP Neil Parish calling the decision a ‘retrograde step’ and said the CCG’s failure to listen to conclusions from its stakeholder group - which recommended against the proposals - showed a ‘lack of respect’.

However, the CCG strenuously denied the report had been ignored and said it had, in fact, been closely considered by the governing body.

Committee member Councillor Wright – who also represented Ottery on the stakeholder group – proposed the launch of a task group to investigate the process.

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She cast doubt over whether the CCG had adhered to national guidelines that require clear, clinical evidence, strong patient and public involvement, the support of GPs and commissioners and impact on current and prospective patient choice.

Her proposal was agreed by a narrow margin that relied on a casting vote from the committee chairman.

Cllr Wright challenged the legitimacy of the decision in the face of ‘massive resistance’ and quoted from a paper submitted to the CCG in May, where a Sidmouth GP outlined concerns about the proposals.

The CCG’s chief officer Rebecca Harriott presented a number of key factors behind the decision-making process and said although there will be a decrease in 11 beds across the eastern locality, comparatively high numbers remain.

She said there is a need for flexibility in bed numbers, with plans to increase this to meet high demand.

The CCG said its proposals will mean a saving of £560,000 funding each year and offered a commitment to returning investment into community services and said this way resources will go further.

A CCG spokesman confirmed changes will continue to go ahead as planned and will be working with local people, as well as passing on any of the necessary information to the investigating task group.

Chairman of Save Our Ottery Hospital James Goddard was one of many campaigners who attended the committee meeting.

He said he was ‘rather disappointed’ by the whole process, but is grateful to Cllr Wright for ensuring a task force will investigate further.