Non-drivers and new mums are most affected by the closure of Okehampton Hospital’s beds, research by an NHS improvement group has shown.

An ongoing study by West Devon’s Core 20+ group, part of a national NHS group which aims to reduce health inequalities across England, has so far revealed that Okehampton’s non-drivers and those in very rural locations struggle to access quality healthcare as they are forced to use public transport to visit the medical centre or the hospital in Exeter for more specialised care.

Furthermore, new mums in Okehampton and the surrounding area have admitted to struggling to access nearby antenatal and postnatal support and are instead travelling to Exeter or paying for private baby support.

Amy Phillips, Core 20+ co-ordinator for North Dartmoor Primary Care Network, said: ‘There’s not really anything like antenatal and postnatal classes for people who haven’t either travelled to Exeter or payed private which is like £300+ for a course of classes which is just madness.

‘When you’re going on maternity leave, you don’t want to have to worry about that, you want to make those connections, make those establishments early with people that are going to be going through the same things that you are.

‘There’s a lack of transport in Okehampton and everyone’s expected to go to Exeter hospital and the answer is “I’ll get a bus,” but actually for the rural villages, like Northlew, buses are like once a day, once a week, and if you miss it, then you’ve missed it.’

Medical professionals have moved towards providing more and more eConsult appointments which, though providing more opportunities for those less able to attend a face-to-face appointment, are disliked by many members of the community.

Ms Phillips added: ‘a week. A lot of people are cross at the waiting times for GPs and how they’ve put in eConsult as a solution that actually is causing more problems.

‘A lot of people don’t like how the eConsult works in general. You get a phone call, but you don’t get a scheduled phone call. You might get a phone call back when you’re in the middle of like the car park or Lidl and actually that’s not the sort of time or place for you to talk about your health issues.

‘I think a lot of people are just cross as the seemingly obvious is staring them in the face - open up the hospital. I think people are cross because it’s such a waste of resources. We’re doing these projects to find out the health inequalities and how the NHS can make changes and that’s the biggest change you can make - open up that hospital and bring back all the resources that we had.’

Ms Phillips and her team are continuing their research into health inequalities in the Okehampton area and will attend the Community Links befriending coffee group this morning (February 23) to allow residents the chance to explain the problems they have had accessing healthcare which will help to inform her report to the NHS on how the service could be improved.

This all comes as a new push to reopen Okehampton Hospital’s ward is implemented.