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Vital that closure of Dartmouth and Kingswear Community Hospital is reversed

May 21, 2018 7:00 PM

Caroline Voaden with Vince CableIt was hard to miss the strength of feeling in the room about healthcare provision in Dartmouth at the packed public meeting last week. It is clear residents of the Dartmouth and the surrounding villages feel they are not being listened to by the Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust.

I am appalled that the trust allowed the closure of Dartmouth Hospital to happen before a new site was operational.

Given the situation as it now stands, I believe it is vital that the closure is reversed.

I don't believe the people of Dartmouth want an all-singing, all-dancing new state-of-the-art 'health and well-being centre'. They want a hospital where they can be cared for by professional nursing staff who can treat minor injuries or care for elderly or recuperating patients. They want somewhere they can go knowing they will be cared for by skilled professionals who are on call 24 hours a day, not left at home alone waiting for a carer to arrive who may be held up in traffic or who can't park their car.

I have heard countless objections to the closure from people in and around the town and have written to the trust urging them to reconsider their decision to close the hospital. They need to admit they got this decision wrong, listen to the people of Dartmouth and not just come in, let them have their say and then disregard them.

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?

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 it. 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. We have to put a stop to the piecemeal dismantling of our NHS before it is too late.

I urge the trust 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.

Our Conservative 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 now, 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 these cottage hospitals and where will it end? When there are no local hospitals left?

Caroline Voaden
Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate for Totnes