County Councillor for Seaton and Colyton
LETTER TO THE CHAIR OF NEW DEVON CCG
Dear Dr Burke,
We have seen draft notes prepared by 38 Degrees of your meeting with them on April 5th. According to these, Simon Kerr said (before your own arrival) that Seaton and Honiton hospitals were ‘at risk’ in the coming Estates Strategy. These remarks, written down at the time, have been confirmed to us by several participants. While we appreciate that no formal decision may have been taken, there seems little reason not to take them as a clear indication of CCG thinking.
As the two elected local politicians on the organising group of Seaton Health Matters, the community conversation launched together together with the CCG and RD&E, we hosted Dr Kerr at the launch meeting on 23rd March, which also heard Em Wilkinson-Bryce (copied in) appeal to the audience to trust in the ‘good intentions’ of the speakers from the NHS organisations. We have no reason at all to doubt her sincerity, but it is difficult for us to believe in the good faith of Dr Kerr and the CCG, as (unless he had only just picked up the names of the ‘at risk’ hospitals) it seems to us that you may have helped launched us into a discussion of local health needs knowing that you may be moving to deprive us of our major health resource, Seaton Hospital.
Our initial Health Matters discussion broached many areas of constructive cooperation between the local community and the NHS, which we are keen to pursue. However it also left no doubt of the need to maintain the 50+ outpatient services currently based in the Hospital, the desirability of bringing in additional services if place-based care is to be meaningful, and the needs of an elderly community (with significant pockets of deprivation and poor public transport) for as many clinics, etc., as possible on the doorstep rather than in other towns. We are ready to explore the possibility of a combined health hub for the Axe Valley, but on the basis that services would be more or less equally shared across the two hospitals and there would be no reduction in the overall level of services in each. The other thing that was clear from our discussion was that the community considers the Hospital a community resource since its building was half-funded by local donations and it has been maintained by local contributions ever since. I am sure that people in Axminster and Honiton feel the same about theirs.
You should not underestimate the local anger, only just subsiding, over the removal of beds from Seaton Hospital. It bears repeating that this was widely regarded, including outside Seaton, as an unjust choice based on a misuse of the JSNA data and misleading assumptions about the relative agedness of the populations of Seaton and Sidmouth (their age structure is in fact almost identical and the comparison did not justify a choice of Sidmouth over Seaton). It was also based on false claims that the Sidmouth option would involve a better geographical spread: a glance at the map would have shown that, on the contrary, it left the remaining community beds concentrated in the southwestern corner of East Devon with none in the Axe Valley. There is similar feeling in Honiton because the Your Future Care consultation did not even include an option which would have retained their hospital’s beds.
We mention this history not to try to reverse the beds decisions (although the shortage of beds in the recent winter should lead to it being looked at again) but because the treatment of Seaton and Honiton in those decisions should be a reason for generosity in the distribution of outpatient services and in the Estates Strategy. It is adding insult to injury to place Seaton and Honiton on a shortlist of potential closures. Having switched your decision last time against Seaton, you should now reconsider again in Seaton’s favour. This is not, of course, to suggest that any other hospital should be closed instead. On the contrary, all East Devon towns have community hospitals which reflect real local needs and you should be devising a system of health hubs which enables all communities to have a solid base for place-based care.
The next meeting of Seaton Health Matters is scheduled for 24th May. We do not wish it to be dominated by the fallout from Dr Kerr’s remarks but without an unequivocal assurance that Seaton Hospital will remain open, it is unavoidable that this will be the main topic of discussion.
We look forward to hearing from you at the earliest opportunity. We have also copied this to Sonja Manton since we discussed the Health Matters process with Em and her before it began. We should like to meet with you about this, but before the 24th any meeting would have to be late that afternoon or on the 23rd, as one of us is away until the morning of the 22nd.
County Councillor for Seaton & Colyton
Seaton Town Council”