Strong turnout in Ottery St Mary as people rally to fight for future of hospital
PUBLISHED: 11:56 27 May 2016
'We do not want a hub' - protester
Concerns over the future of community hospitals came to a head on Saturday as scores of angry protesters turned out to demonstrate in Ottery St Mary.
Campaigners once again rallied to fight for their ‘beloved’ facility amid fears that an impending change of ownership could threaten the provision of healthcare in towns across East Devon.
All community hospitals in the locality, including Sidmouth Victoria Hospital and Ottery Hospital, are due to be transferred to NHS Property Services, a company that would need to generate a commercial income from the buildings.
The move has sparked widespread concern for the future of the sites, which have both been built and sustained with significant contributions from the community, and triggered Saturday’s demonstration.
Protest organiser county councillor Claire Wright spoke of her anger that Ottery hospital – built with £250,000 of community funds – could be at risk of being ‘sold off’ if it does not prove financially viable.
She accused the Government of turning ‘beloved centres of care’ into ‘cash cows’ and urged residents to take action by writing to the press, lobbying representatives and joining the hospital’s league of friends.
However, East Devon MP Hugo Swire also addressed the crowd and attempted to alleviate concerns and warn against ‘scaremongering’.
Mr Swire said: “I think Cllr Wright is trying to create a fear that the hospital is going to be sold off. All the evidence I have been able to get from ministers points to that not being the case. I am a great champion of the community hospital. I believe they have a vital role in the provision of health services. They should all interlink to provide a first line of defence to keep people out of the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital.
“One of the reasons I wanted to turn up in Ottery was to show my support for the community hospitals, but also explain things as they have been explained to me.”
He cited a letter from the NHS Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) - a body responsible for commissioning healthcare services – that reiterates plans to focus on prevention and developing Ottery Hospital into a health and wellbeing hub.
But protester Grenville Gilbert – who visited the ‘fantastic’ facility regularly for many years as a member of the chaplaincy - argues people do not want a ‘hub’. He said: “I’m of the view that the community hospital should remain just that – a community hospital caring for local people. We do not want a hub. If people are sent home, who will look after them? For many, a brief visit from a nurse is not satisfactory.”
NHS Property Services manages 4,000 NHS buildings worth an estimated £3billion. Its remit is to renovate or sell properties according to needs, with any money saved ploughed back into the NHS.
A spokesman for the company last week stressed that decisions about service provision in Ottery rested with the healthcare commissioners, not the building’s owner.
He said: “These healthcare commissioning decisions, as opposed to market rent, will be the primary factor in determining future service provision at the hospital. Market rent helps the NHS understand the true costs of its property and provides funds for reinvestment. The Department of Health has also committed to meeting any increased NHS property costs in the 2016/17 financial year arising from market rent.”