Tuesday, 28 October 2014

It’s a straight fight between the two

IN the end it’s going to come down to what no one wants to admit. The retention of in-patient hospital beds for the Axe Valley is a straight fight between Axminster and Seaton hospitals.

No one wishes to pitch town against town for health services – but that’s the bottom line here as those running clinical services in East Devon grapple with an ever-increasing demand and £14 million overspend.

Both hospitals are rightly highly regarded. But any hopes that both could retain in-patient beds were well and truly sunk at last week’s public meeting organised as part of the consultation process by the NHS’s Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group, known as the NEW CCG (they love acronyms in the NHS).

As expected, there was another full house in Axminster Guildhall, packed with people concerned about the future of their hospital. The big fear is that if the beds in Axminster go, it will only be a matter of time before the X-ray unit and other facilities disappear and the hospital will be closed.

Although this meeting was organised by the NEW CCG, it was the League of Friends of Axminster Hospital which made sure the maximum number of local people could hear the arguments for and against by relaying the proceedings via the wonders of technology to the nearby Minster Church where a further 80 people listened and watched the speakers in action, breaking out in polite applause from time to time.

Ah, if only so many turned up on a Sunday morning, church officials must have been thinking.

The NEW CCG panel handled two hours of intense questioning well but rarely wavered from their preference for the beds to be retained at Seaton. Ottery St Mary doctor Simon Kerr, I thought, was star of the show, honest and pragmatic at all times.

The more difficult questions fell to Sidmouth doctor Mike Slott, whose brusque manner irritated a few in the audience, but, in usual GP fashion, he did not mince his words, making it clear that “things had to change”. And so they will.

The finance bod, playing a purely supportive role, looked like a man who was struggling with a £14.6 million deficit in funding clinical services in East Devon.

In general the audience, to their credit, behaved. Mayor Jeremy Walden said he was convinced it was not a  “done deal” and town, district and county council Andrew Moulding made an impassioned plea for there to be 18 beds retained at both hospitals. That will not happen.

In the end it will come down to where the need is greater – Axminster or Seaton.  The NHS has plumped for Seaton.  Axminster argues that the NHS figures for Axminster are undercooked with no recognition of the town’s wider hinterland and planned expansion, not to mention the number of people from Lyme and Charmouth who use the hospital facilities. 

And there can be no denying that the general medical facilities at Axminster Hospital are far superior to those at Seaton.

The meeting was well chaired by Steve Holt, treasurer of the LoF (now I’m at it) who finished proceedings by presenting a well thought out rebuttal report counteracting the argument for Seaton.  The panel agreed to reconsider their figurework. We can only hope the mayor is right – that it is not “a done deal”.

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