“Devon County Council has confirmed it is looking into the conduct of members of one of its committees following a debate and vote not to refer a decision to close 72 community hospital beds in Devon to the secretary of state for health.
The matter was debated by the health and adult care scrutiny committee meeting at Exeter’s County Hall on July 25.
Among those who have expressed their concerns is Val Ranger, East Devon District Council ward councillor for Newton Poppleford and Harpford.
She says that at a meeting of East Devon District full council meeting on July 26, Cllr Paul Diviani, who sits on the committee as a representative of district councils, admitted he had not asked the opinion of other district councils about whether they wished to refer the decision to close local hospital beds to the secretary of state, and could offer no evidence on that basis that he was representing their views.
At the meeting Cllr Diviani was among those who voted not to refer the decision to the secretary of state.
Cllr Ranger said: “He said he voted not to because it was unlikely that the secretary of state would overturn the decision.
This seems duplicitous on two count. The first for failing to adequately represent the views of the district councils.
“Secondly for assuming the role of the secretary of state by stating there was no point in referring the matter to him as he was unlikely to overturn the decision.
“At the EDDC scrutiny committee on June 22, EDDC’s views and recommendations were very clear; Northern, Eastern and Western (NEW) Devon Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has failed to provide the evidence needed to support their plans.
“However, Cllr Diviani failed to represent those views or the views of other district councils as he did not seek them. He has admitted he voted independently of both EDDC and other district councils, rendering his vote as entirely without integrity in his role at the DCC meeting.
“The vote is an entirely unsafe and undemocratic way of conducting business and brings both EDDC and DCC into disrepute.”
A spokesman for Devon County Council said: “We have received a number of comments, representations and complaints about the health and adult care scrutiny committee held last week and about the conduct of members at that meeting.
“We will be looking at all the points raised by Cllr Ranger and others under our normal procedures to see if there are any issues to be addressed.”
However, Cllr Diviani is confident the investigation by DCC will conclude there has been no wrong doing.
He said: “I take this predictable and entirely politically motivated complaint against me by people who contribute little or nothing positive to the debate at face value, and feel sure that DCC will dismiss the allegations as unfounded.
“I have neither seen or heard anything from Ms Ranger on how her party would address the huge challenges facing the NEW Devon CCG and the NHS.
“As the web cam at County Hall malfunctioned and didn’t record properly, the gist of what I said is as below. I did also explain that my position on that scrutiny committee is by virtue of my being elected by the other leaders of all the Devon districts to represent the county-wide views of the district councils, not just East Devon, and is a function I perform regularly both locally and in London through the District Councils Network where I represent the South West.
“There is a tendency to assume that everything is fine as it is, when it quite clearly is not, and that the government will keep throwing money at the NHS as they always have in the past.
“What that underestimates are the social care costs which are massive, but if tackled correctly will reduce the acute care costs, as evidenced by the Kings Fund report. We will still need our hospital buildings which in Honiton are already being used differently, for example, for kidney or chemotherapy treatments. Staffing is still a problem but that is not building dependent.
“Many of us have made a positive decision to live and indeed work in the countryside and a direct result of that decision is a diminution of accessible services we can reasonably expect the state to provide. When able, it is a price we gladly pay for the quality of life afforded.
“In straightened times, we need to cut the cloth accordingly. As is well documented, the largely under funded cost of adult social care is a significant factor in the problems besetting the NHS where the acute care service is the treatment of last resort, and very good it is too, but with the budget sliced off to the top tier local authority.
“As the truly excellent Kings Fund Report from 2016 made exceedingly clear, sorting adult social care comes first and if we tackle that with the help of the district councils the benefits will flow. The NHS cost pressures will diminish and the money can best be spent where most needed.
“In East Devon we have enormous and justifiable pride in our local hospitals and all our existing towns were well endowed. Costs are, however, never static and will always rise without innovation.
“But here we are talking service industry which is always people dependent and where low wages do not necessarily translate into low cost. Simply put, if one person falls, it will take two people to rectify the situation, and if not rectified speedily, the condition and costs multiply exponentially.
“And speedily must mean access to care, quickly. Our travel times are well known and until they are resolved, we will always need staging posts to either stop people occupying the acute provision when unnecessary or to maintain them in a degree of comfort until they can reach the comfort and safety of their own living space.
“The major flaw appears to me to be the ever present ‘one size fits all’. Flexibility is key and our response should be the start.
“Attempting to browbeat the secretary of state with a demand to overturn his own policies is counter intuitive. I prefer to ask him to rural proof our rural situation before allowing any further reductions in service which we on the ground can see will be detrimental, but our transformers would discount. But that is a local decision which should be made locally.”
Also among those who have raised concerns over the debate and vote at the scrutiny meeting is Claire Wright, Devon County Councillor for Otter Valley Ward.
She has said how she was “disappointed” by the behaviour of scrutiny committee chair Sara Randall Johnson who “appeared to do her utmost” to prevent any referral.
She said: “I am also disappointed with the attitude of the majority of the Conservative group who used a variety of ill-informed views and remarks to justify their determination not to refer, refusing to hear or see any member of the public’s distress, frustration and disbelief at the proceedings.
“The chair’s attitude made me angry and led to a protracted row where I repeatedly asked her why she had allowed a proposal to be made and seconded at the very start of the meeting by her conservative colleague, Rufus Gilbert, not to refer to the secretary of state for health, when I already had a proposal that I had lodged with her and the two officers, before the meeting.”
She added: “When they did what they did at the health scrutiny meeting, the Conservatives betrayed thousands of local people.”
The close vote whether to refer the decision was six votes to seven, with two abstentions. All those who voted with Cllr Gilbert’s motion were Conservative’s.
Cllr Wright, who is seeking advice on what happened at the meeting, concluded: “I am quite certain that with a different approach by the chair the outcome would have been different, and local peoples views would have been respected and acted upon.”