Former mayor Jan Goffey has described the difficulties some Okehampton residents face visiting dying loved ones in Exeter or Derriford Hospital as "cruel" and "inhumane."

Her impassioned speech came at a public meeting held last Friday (April 12) to discuss the campaign to reopen the dormant wards at Okehampton Hospital to improve nearby medical care, relieve pressure on larger hospitals and support patient wellbeing by ensuring nearby friends and family can visit quickly and regularly.

She said: "We need to really push to get the beds back, or at least some beds back, to relieve the suffering of people who are trapped in the RD&E, trapped in Teignmouth and Sidmouth...and their partner is in Okehampton. People have died on their own without a family by them because they cannot get there. And it is cruel, it is inhumane, and it should not be happening."

Her comment highlighted one of many ways that the closure of Okehampton's hospital beds has affected residents, such as reduced access to local healthcare services and long travel times to the nearest major hospitals in Exeter or Plymouth.

Research by the Liberal Democrats has revealed that it takes over 30 minutes to reach the RD&E by car from Okehampton, while travel time can exceed an hour when using public transport.

Figures from the Okehampton District Community Transport Group (ODCTG) released earlier this year revealed that in 2023, ODCTG provided transport on 1,320 occasions to 1,568 people to 21 hospitals across Devon and two or three times a day to the RD&E.

Mark Wooding, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Central Devon, described as "shocked" at these figures, stating that the number of hospital journeys was likely to be much higher once those using personal vehicles and public transport were included.

He said this problem would only intensify as the town's population continued to grow and age. UK census data showed that between 2011 and 2021, the population of Okehampton and the surrounding area increased by approximately 30 per cent, and in 2021, roughly 25 per cent of the area's population was over the age of 65.

"You will know, I'm sure, because I certainly do that that is the age point when we begin to make greater and greater demands on the NHS. So that is an issue for us as a community; a significant proportion of the members of our society are likely to be calling on NHS services," added Mr Wooding.

Cllr Goffey and Mr Wooding have now issued a call for action in a renewed push to reopen the hospital wards and have the backing of Central Devon MP Mel Stride.

He said: ““Quite rightly we all care about local healthcare provision in Okehampton. Following my recent meeting the announcement by NHS Property Services of £1 million investment is an indication that there is a future for the hospital. I have continued my discussions and I am looking to hold a number of meetings one of which will include Royal Devon University Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust to explore the expansion of outpatient clinics.”

Campaigners hope to persuade the NHS to reopen the wards using facts and figures and recounting community members' personal experiences of the hospital in a report that will be presented to the Integrated Care Board.

However, Cllr Goffey has stressed the need to be "realistic" and is also asking residents for their opinions on other ways of utilising the empty hospital space if the NHS refuses to reopen the wards.