The large number of hospital journeys made by Okehampton District Community Transport Group (ODCTG) drivers shows the need for Okehampton Hospital’s wards, local Liberal Democrats have argued.

Liberal Democrat councillors and the party’s parliamentary candidate for Central Devon, Mark Wooding, have argued that better healthcare provision is needed for Okehampton residents, after data revealed that the ODCTG made over 1,000 hospital journeys to destinations as far afield as Sidmouth or Honiton.

Mr Wooding said: “Although many of these journeys will be for check-ups, tests and treatments, some will be to visit loved-ones. The sheer volume of journeys does suggest that there is a failure of health-care provision in Okehampton.

“I think it makes a compelling case for the reopening of the currently ‘dormant’ wards at Okehampton Hospital, either as recovery wards or for other non-surgical treatments and tests.

“It would help address the problem of ‘bed blocking’ and help reduce the record high numbers waiting for NHS treatment.”

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 Royal Devon and Exeter hospital.

Paula Anscomb, co-ordinator at ODCTG, said: “It would certainly help our clients because they will not have to pay for the journey to Exeter. Our drivers can make about three journeys visiting RD&E a day.

“Reopening the hospital wards, would help with our capacity. It’s also more environmentally friendly. It’s something people should be aware of.

“Most of our clients are elderly and they want to visit their husbands, wives, family members in hospital.”

Volunteer driver and former Okehampton mayor Jan Goffey, added: “Time is happily given by volunteers and for many in our community it is an essential service.

“The sheer number of journeys to hospitals though suggests we need better health-care provision in Okehampton.”

But there will be many more hospital trips made from Okehampton by those who do not need to call on ODCTG services.

“Most people will have access to their own, or family, cars to make the trip. That could mean tens-of-thousands of journeys are being made each year from Okehampton to distant hospitals,” said Liberal Democrat councillor Christian Martin.

ODCTG is an Okehampton-based charity that provides transport for people who find it difficult to use conventional public transport due to mobility issues or a disability, the elderly and those who are rurally isolated.