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Letter to the Chair of the South Devon and Torbay Clinical Commissioning Group

May 20, 2018 6:00 PM

Caroline VoadenDear Dr Johnson,

I attended the packed public meeting at St Saviours Church in Dartmouth last week where the strength of feeling of the Dartmouth community about healthcare provision in the town was hard to miss. It is clear residents of the town and surrounding villages feel they are not being listened to by the trust and I urge you to start listening.

You say that at the time the decision was taken to close Dartmouth Hospital, River View was still viable as an option. However as that is no longer the case, surely the decision to close the hospital must be reviewed? Is it not time to reinstate bed-based care in the town while the search for another site for a new 'health and well-being centre' is found?

I have heard countless objections to the closure from people in and around the town and I am asking you publicly to reconsider your decision to close it. Admit the trust got this decision wrong, listen to the people of Dartmouth, don't just come and let them have their say then disregard it as if it didn't matter.

At what point does a community lose the right to have a say in where and how its people receives care, for what could be the most intimate and difficult days of their life, even the end of a life?

Liz Davenport repeatedly told the meeting that home-based care has been improved in Dartmouth since the closure of the hospital. That may be true, though while many people appreciate being looked after in their own home - a care model that is potentially more cost-effective for the Trust than caring for people in hospital - it is not what everyone wants.

As I said in my intervention at the meeting - caring for a sick relative at home is hard work and can be frightening. Not everyone has the skill, knowledge, ability or confidence to do this. Older people should not be left to care for a dying relative on their own. People who live alone should not have to remain bed-bound at home with no human contact save for occasional visits from carers. Hospital provides much more than medical and nursing care and it seems this is being ignored by the trust in its drive to continually shave what meagre pennies are left off an already stretched budget.
We all know the NHS is in crisis. It's clear the current Conservative government does not have the political will to invest what is necessary to prevent the system collapsing altogether.

But I urge you not to forget that this is a remote and increasingly elderly community - nearly an hour from the nearest A&E and constantly waiting far too long for emergency vehicles to arrive. Simon Tapley's protestations at the meeting that the number of admissions don't justify a hospital don't stack up when your own information talks about the projected increase in the number of elderly in the town.
Dementia is projected to increase by 80%, stroke by 45% and falls 49% between 2015-2035. And you're saying there is no need for a hospital in this town?

And not to have an MIU in a town that is full of holiday-makers, watersports enthusiasts and elderly people beggars belief.

Our MP Sarah Wollaston has said: "It is vital that plans are not abandoned, and that local people have a say in the options for future sites and what should be included."
Well local people have had a say - they have clearly and emphatically said that they want bed-based care to be provided in Dartmouth hospital while the search for new premises for the 'health and well-being centre' takes place. Why you can't house a health and wellbeing team, a carers service, GPs and clinic services in the existing hospital is beyond the comprehension of most people in this town.

It is simply not good enough for Dartmouth residents to have to wait until "approximately 2021" for the build to be completed, a date offered by Liz Davenport at the meeting.

How many people will have to die on their own at home before 2021?
How many people will die while waiting for an ambulance to navigate packed country roads in summer?
How many people will be forced to travel for hours by bus to visit relatives who have been shipped out to Totnes, Newton Abbot or Torquay?

As part of the trust's plan to integrate health and social care functions, and Torbay hospital at black alert status earlier this year, doesn't it make more sense to keep this community hospital open so step-down care exists in this community? Where is the logic in closing down these cottage hospitals and where will it end? When there are no local hospitals left?

I urge you to reopen Dartmouth Hospital - people here want a hospital. They don't care if it isn't a state of the art facility. Listen to the community you represent.

Yours sincerely,
Caroline Voaden
Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate for Totnes