Councillors continue to remain committed to the battle to reopen the beds at Okehampton Hospital and have agreed to discuss a plan of action at the next council meeting as they continue to liaise with healthcare authorities.

Following a meeting with Lou Higgins, the North and East Devon locality director at the Devon Clinical Commisioning Group, last month, Okehampton town councillors have agreed to continue working towards reopening the ward despite a government initiative to sideline cottage hospitals.

Cllr Tony Leech said: “One of the issues was that it’s a government initiative that once they close the hospitals the NHS were not allowed to open them again or open new ones. One assumes that with an election year coming up we really press those who want to be MPs or those who are sitting now to say ‘We don’t care what you said [before] we want local beds for local people’ because that’s exactly what I have been hearing for years.”

Instead, it has been mooted that empty hospital space be used for community groups and activities or as a daycare centre but this was met with frustration from councillors who argued that such a move would weaken the argument for the reopening of the ward.

Cllr Laura Bird said: “We came up with the thought of having a daycare centre for people who are coming out of hospital who need support during the day, who are having carers around - family, friends and neigbours who look after them in the house - and that’s really tricky because people are giving up their jobs.

“The problem is if we establish that we will definitely not get our hospital beds, we’re not getting what we want, we are getting second best. It might fill the gap a little bit because at least those who want to be discharged can be looked after during the day but there will still be overnight care that they might possibly need in a hospital.”

Cllr Bird described the council’s continued battle to reopen the beds as a fight against the “national direction” but one it may be able to win if appropriate evidence and research is collated and presented to the NHS. She added that Ms Higgins had informed her that the council may be able to persuade officials to reopen the ward if it was able to present strong evidence that the beds are a local necessity.

In a letter to the council, Ms Higgins wrote that though there was currently no plan to reopen the hospital beds she would be happy to work with the council on ideas to better utilise the empty hospital space.

She added: “I have since been in touch with colleagues who said that developing any plans or ideas to better use the space in the main part of the hospital would be a medium-term piece of work that we would look to take forward in 2024.”

Okehampton’s inpatient hospital beds closed in 2017 following a public consultation by the Northern, Eastern and Western Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). The consultation concluded that the new Okehampton Medical Centre had the capacity to treat the town’s hospital patients.