Campaigners seeking to save a wing of Seaton Hospital have been given a boost by a Devon health organisation, writes local democracy reporter Bradley Gerrard.
Scores of protesters from the East Devon town took their plight to prevent the wing being sold or demolished to the health and adult care scrutiny committee of the county council.
Its chair, Councillor Sara Randall Johnson (Cons, Broadclyst), said she would write to the NHS requesting it meets the community in person to discuss options to save the wing, while urging health bosses to provide a written report of the outcome to her committee before its January meeting.
A community day of action is to be held this Saturday (November 18) to further raise awareness of the issue.
Campaigners will meet at Seaton Tramway and hand out leaflets and collect signatures for a petition.
Before that, churches in and around the town will ring their bells to “signify the danger of losing our hospital and the mourning which would be associated with its demise”, according to Reverend Barry Brewer.
He added Seaton Parish Church would also be open for prayer for the future of the hospital from 9.30am on the day.
Cllr Randall Johnson said: “I want the ICB and NHS Property Services to come and sit round the table with the local community to see if there is any way for it to be taken on.
“I think the real challenge for the community is going to be the whole question of whether it really would cost £300,000 a year, and if it does, and NHS Property Services wants a commercial level of rent rather than a community one, then I think it’s probably a non-starter and that’s disappointing.”
She said the amount spent by the Devon ICB on renting the largely void wing was a “gross waste of money,” costing an estimated £1.8 million in the past six years.
“That’s like two-and-a-half GPs per annum, or 8.5 nurses, or 12 domiciliary care workers that could have been employed to help the people of Seaton and the surrounding areas,” she said.
The Devon Integrated Care Board (ICB) is considering handing the hospital wing back to its landlord NHS Property Services, because the latter charges it roughly £300,000 in rent and other costs.
Most of the wing is empty. However, some services are based there and community groups want to launch a health hub that would include services to support dementia patients.
Around 250 campaigners packed Colyford Memorial Hall earlier this month in a bid to prevent the wing being handed back to NHS Property Services, which it fears will redevelop it or knock it down.
The community is even more angered by this prospect as local fundraising paid for the wing’s construction.
Martin Shaw, a former county Councillor who is coordinating efforts to save the wing, welcomed the intervention.
“The committee was definitely supportive of our campaign, and the chair commented that she was upset that she hadn’t been informed any more than we were about what was potentially happening to the hospital wing,” he said.
“And they were sympathetic to our case that we had paid for the wing, and for a lot of the [main]hospital and so therefore shouldn’t have to pay market rents to use it, which is what NHS Property Services is demanding.”
Tiverton and Honiton MP Richard Foord (Lib Dem) has called for an adjournment debate in parliament on the issue this week, and Mr Shaw said two online petitions now had more than 1,000 signatures between them.