AFTER months of campaigning from the Okehampton community, Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group has confirmed it will close all 16 in-patient beds at Okehampton Hospital — with the decision labelled ’cruel and heartless’.

Last September, the clinical commissioning group (NEW Devon CCG) unveiled its plans to cut half of the in-patient beds in its eastern locality, which included all 16 beds in Okehampton. The 143 beds across the locality’s hospitals are to be reduced to 72 beds located at Tiverton, Sidmouth and Exmouth hospitals instead of the seven hospitals used at present.

An option for 24 beds at Seaton Hospital, rather than Sidmouth, had been the preferred option at the start of the consultation. However, analysis of material collected during the consultation and study of data on inequalities, led to Sidmouth emerging as the more appropriate location for beds.

Honiton and Okehampton hospitals did not appear in any of the shortlisted options following the initial scoring process. During the consultation, the community in Honiton requested further consideration of issues such as rurality and patient access. Similarly, the community put forward a case for beds at Okehampton Hospital. During the public consultation period, a petition with more than 3,500 signatures was handed to the CCG fighting to save Okehampton Hospital’s beds.

The strength of feedback from public and clinical stakeholders has not changed the proposal to close beds at Okehampton, but the CCG agreed that in light of the rurality and associated factors, it would commission further work to assess the services needed in the Okehampton area.

The recommendations and findings are detailed in the Decision-Making Business Case, available on the CCG website;

Dr Tim Burke, chair of NHS NEW Devon CCG, said: ’We know we can do more to prevent unnecessary hospital admissions and support a faster return home for our patients. Too many people are in hospitals when they don’t need to be there. Every day, up to 600 people are in hospitals (100 of these in community hospitals) who no longer have a medical need to be there.’There is a growing body of evidence that the solution lies in developing community services outside hospital, which in turn reduces the numbers of people unnecessarily admitted to hospital. We need to be focusing more resources on providing better care for people away from hospitals.

’We will look at how we will implement the changes as soon as possible. This will include an assurance process that will involve consultant geriatricians, GPs and community representatives. Inpatient beds will only close when the assurance process has been completed.

’At this point, I want to personally thank everyone who has contributed to the consultation.’

The decision was ratified at a meeting of the CCG’s governing body at Exeter Racecourse this afternoon. It has been greeted with huge disappointment from across the community.

A statement from Okehampton Town and Okehampton Hamlets Parish Councils said that the CCG had followed ’due process to the letter of the law but with no humanity’.

’It is hard to believe that with the evidence presented showing the need for community beds west of Exeter, the CCG has decided that the residents in this area do not merit reasonable access to any community hospital beds.

’The decision directly contradicts the CCG’s own aims of equitable provision across all its area. The strong impression has been given that the CCG simply doesn’t care for residents in half the geographical area of eastern locality.

’The CCG stated in our public meeting, that no beds will be closed until the new system of home care is in place, tried, tested and effective and care will be as good as, if not better, than in the hospital.

’These promises made by the CCG must be kept — unlike the now broken promises to people in Moretonhampstead and Crediton, saying that they could go to Okehampton Hospital and be cared for there, when their own hospital beds were removed.

’The staff need to know that we care about their futures and their roles in our community and we cannot stand by and see their expertise lost when our community needs them here and nursing in Okehampton.

’It will now be for consideration to be given to what recourse is open to us to challenge the decision. A challenge is a route no one wants to take, but we do not intend simply to roll over and allow our community to be sold short in terms of future health care in Okehampton and the wider area west of Exeter.

’But whatever happens to the beds, our priority is the hospital itself and safeguarding its future as a centre of medical care in the community.’

Martin Perry, chair of the Friends of Okehampton Hospital, said he was disappointed but said the outcome of the consultation had been anticipated.

’Our committee remain very concerned that the support and staffing of the community nursing team may present difficulties but we are confident that the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, which is now in charge of community nursing, will do its utmost to bridge the gap.

’The situation facing the CCG was horrendously difficult as the NHS in Devon headed towards a deficit in excess of £400-million by 2020. We are in no doubt that they have tried to re-organise the care of patients in Devon in what their medical expertise considers to be the best possible way and have certainly consulted widely in the process. It can’t have been easy.

’We accept the result and will now work as hard as ever to do what we can as the Friends of the Hospital to support the new structure whether that is by providing equipment for the enhanced community nursing team or by ensuring that the 40 odd clinics that will continue treating patients in the hospital, have every facility they need.

’I hope everyone in Okehampton and the district will support our efforts and despite the outcome of this reorganisation not being what we had campaigned for, I believe there can still be a bright future for the hospital as a centre for health and well being.

It is now time to look to the future and until such time that more money is made available to the NHS, we must make a real success of our hospital and of the services offered there and in the homes of patients. That will be our mission.’Devon County Councillor Kevin Ball said: ’I am disappointed that the decision hasn’t gone the way we hoped. What we need to do now is properly evaluate what our next steps should. We will not stop fighting for the town.’Town Mayor Cllr Jan Goffey labelled the decision 'cruel and heartless' and expressed her concerns that the planned care at home model would prove a 'travesty of care'.