Sidmouth protesters join ‘red line’ over NHS cutbacks

Demonstration against bed cuts at Sidmouth Hospital. Ref shs 14 17TI 0091. Picture: Terry Ife

Demonstration against bed cuts at Sidmouth Hospital. Ref shs 14 17TI 0091. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

Chants of ‘whose hospital, our hospital’ erupted in Sidmouth at the weekend as campaigners gathered to protest against cuts to hospital beds in East Devon.

Some 100 supporters of Save Our Hospital Services dressed in red and formed a ‘red line’ outside the Victoria hospital as part of a Devon-wide protest.

The demonstrators also took part in an unplanned march through the town centre to spread their message.

Organisers said they had three aims for the demonstration, including to raise awareness against NHS England’s sustainability transformation plan, which they say will see £550million slashed from Devon’s health spending by 2020/2021. The plan provides a framework within which detailed proposals for how services across Devon will develop.

Sidmouth resident Robert Crick said: “We wanted something that made an impact that did not disrupt any of the traffic or access to the hospital.

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“Someone suggested it [the march] as nobody would see us accept those who came to join us.

“We went down the High Street with our large banner that was wide enough to block the whole street. I think it worked well and the traffic and pedestrians were able to keep going.

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“A lot of people were very positive about it and quite enjoyed our chanting about ‘watch out for the bedblockers’ and, ‘whose hospital, our hospital, whose NHS, our NHS.’

There were similar demonstrations at hospitals across East and North Devon to warn against ‘massive’ cuts planned by the NEW Devon Clinical Commissioning Group, including the closure of 72 inpatient beds in the Eastern locality.

A decision made by the CCG in February will see Sidmouth Victoria Hospital retain its inpatient beds, but Seaton and Honiton are among places to lose theirs.

Mr Crick said: “Aneurin Bevan, when he set up the NHS, said the service will was last as long as people are willing to fight for it. It’s more than just a fun outing on April Fool’s Day.

“Sidmouth hospital beds are safe for the time being but they will be increasingly under pressure.”

Councillor Cathy Gardener spoke on Saturday to say the day marked four years since the Health and Social Care Bill came into force on April 1, 2013.

She said: “I think what’s important is we were one of many protests in Sidmouth.

“I think it [the message] isn’t being heard yet, but obviously we just have to keep shouting.

“It was good-natured and cheery, but people are still angry or else we wouldn’t be going out protesting.”

A spokeswoman for NHS Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group (NHS NEW Devon CCG) said local health and social care services in Devon are under ‘severe financial pressure’ and are likely to be £550 million ‘in deficit’ in 2020/21 if nothing changes.

She added it was ‘essential’ that the NHS and local communities work together to identify how best to meet rising demand and secure services for the future.

Dr Tim Burke, a GP and chair of NHS NEW Devon CCG said: “We understand that people are passionate and rightly proud of the NHS and want to express their views.

“The NHS wholeheartedly supports open and frank debate with the public on changes to services but would remind those protesting of the importance of not preventing access to hospitals for patients, visitors and staff.

“Our nurses, doctors, therapists and support staff work extremely hard to provide the best possible care for our patients, and their dedication in caring for our families and friends, despite the challenges faced by the NHS, is inspirational.

“To support our staff to continue to deliver care of the highest quality both now and in the future, we need to ensure that we are providing services in ways which reach and support most people.

“Health and care organisations, as well as local authorities, across Devon, are working together to ensure that everyone in Devon has access to consistently-excellent care, whether provided from a hospital or via community based services.

“For example, the creation of new models of integrated care will help to reduce reliance on bed-based care and enable people to live healthy, independent lives for longer, closer to where they live.

“The acute services review is starting to look at the best way to provide services which meet patient needs and are affordable. It is important to stress that no specific proposals around acute services have been agreed, and therefore it is not appropriate to speculate.”

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