THE people of Axminster and district voted with their feet on Saturday afternoon when around 700 attempted to get into the Guildhall in support of efforts to stop the NHS closing all in-patients beds Axminster Hospital.
It was the biggest turn-out for a public meeting in living memory, possibly ever, with around 300 being unable to get into the hall.
Whilst there were few new arguments put forward to save the beds, there were a number of passionate speeches and it was clear that Axminster is not going to sit back and allow the future of its hospital to be jeopardised without a fight to the finish.
No one from the NHS bothered to turn up (no surprises there then, after all it was a Saturday afternoon!), but it made little difference. They would have been given a torrid time - and they knew that.
There will be NHS representatives at a consultative meeting on Tuesday, October 21st (5pm). They won’t be looking forward to that one, either, and let us hope that an similar number of people will turn up for that meeting. It’s important that they appreciate the strength of feeling and witness the passionate support that the hospital generates.
This is all about the NHS wanting to treat more people in their own home rather than in hospitals, a policy supported by the Government.
That puts MP Neil Parish in a somewhat awkward position but at least he had the courtesy to attend and made it quite clear that in his mind community beds would still be needed no matter how many people were treated at home.
It has also emerged that it was a straight fight between the closure of beds in Axminster or Seaton and Seaton got the nod because they have a greater elderly population.
But those who are fighting so hard to protect Axminster Hospital believe the statistics are flawed and that the proposed expansion of Axminster and the number of elderly in the hinterland that rely on Axminster Hospital have not been taken into consideration.
There were sympathetic noises about not wanting to get into a fight with Seaton with town, district and county councillor Andrew Moulding saying that the beds should be kept in all hospitals. But in the end he accepted it might come down to one town against another.
And that puts Neil Parish in another awkward corner as Seaton is also a part of his constituency, hence his comment: “We don’t want to go into battle with Seaton. We are in its together.”
But those closest to this issue are convinced that they can come up with a genuine case for reversing the decision. They are adamant that it is not a faith accompli.
A repeat public meeting is now being lined up for Wednesday week (October 15th at 2 pm) at Kilmington Cricket pavilion.
Good turn-outs at this and the October 21st meeting will ram home to the NHS how determined Axminster is to keep its hospital.