It is great to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I thank my right hon. Friend Sir Hugo Swire for obtaining this debate, which is very timely.
Consultation should be about consultation. The CCG has presented four options: in option A Tiverton has 32 beds, Seaton 24 and Exmouth 16; in option B Tiverton has 32, Sidmouth 24 and Exmouth 16; in option C Tiverton has 32, Seaton 24 and Exeter 16; and in option D Tiverton has 32, Sidmouth 24 and Exeter 16. There is no sign of Okehampton or Honiton hospitals on the consultation. Beds there are simply said to be closed. Is that consultation? In our original reforms of the health service we said that local people must be consulted. Angela Pedder did exactly the same in Axminster, two years ago, as is being done now; she just came and said the beds were to be closed. There were no alternatives or consultation—just “We have made the decision, we know best, and we will overrule anybody who says any different.”
I tell the Minister that that is not consultation; we must make sure that consultation happens. Honiton is a great hospital. It currently has 18 beds and offers midwife-led births, a minor injuries unit, therapies, outpatients, X-ray and GP-allocated primary care services. It has an outstanding reputation and is often referred to locally as the Honiton Hilton, because it provides such great services. People in Honiton have supported it for generations, and that is what is so essential. We have an ageing population in Devon. My constituency starts in Uplyme. My hon. and learned Friend Mr Cox has Great Torrington in his constituency up in the north-west. Lifton is down in one corner of the county, and it goes right up to beyond Ilfracombe. The county is massive, and it is being suggested that community hospitals should be closed. The Royal Devon and Exeter hospital will be under great pressure to keep its acute beds free. Yet we are closing down community hospitals that could ease the pressure on acute hospitals. That seems to be taking things in totally the wrong direction.
I welcomed the Minister’s intervention on my hon. Friend Peter Heaton-Jones about the reallocation of funds. Are not the consultations therefore premature? Do they not exclude whole hospitals from being considered at all, and should not that be reviewed? Can the Minister ask for that? The independent health service review looked at the case of Torrington and said that it should not have been closed. As to Axminster, we still do not have a proper facility and we do not know how it will be engaged. Not only are the CCGs taking beds away from community hospitals; they are not putting anything in their place.
I make a plea to the Minister: what are we to do? We have an ageing population; the age profile of Axminster is probably what the whole country’s will be in 2035. Our population is healthy but growing older. We want to help people in their own homes. I am pleased for that to happen, and I think it is right, but we also need community hospitals. Honiton has excellent communications so it is easy to bring people in and out of the hospital, and it is a quick journey from the Royal Devon and Exeter to Honiton hospital if people need to be brought back to relieve the pressure on beds. I cannot see how it is possible to go forward with a consultation when a hospital is completely taken out. I am sure that the Minister will say that it is up to local people and organisations to decide; but there is a problem if, when local consultation comes along, a hospital is removed from the list. Also, when it comes to staffing, it does not help in getting staff for a local hospital if that hospital is threatened with closure.
I really feel that all our MPs across the whole of Devon need to unite, because over the last two years the number of beds in our community hospitals has been halved. I rather fear that we will be standing here in two years’ time saying that they have been halved again. Rather than fighting between each other over which hospitals are kept open and which are closed, let us fight all the closures across Devon. Otherwise we are just being picked off one by one, Minister, and this is not the way to run a health service in Devon.