MP and charities sound alarm over proposals to demolish Seaton Hospital wing

16 Oct 2023
Richard Foord standing in front of the entrance to Seaton Hospital

Tiverton & Honiton MP Richard Foord and two local charities, Seaton & District Hospital League of Friends and Re:store, have raised concerns over proposals to demolish a large part of Seaton Community Hospital, instead calling for the space to be repurposed as a new ‘care hub’ to support local people.

For almost 40 years, Seaton and the surrounding towns and villages have benefitted from the hospital, which opened in 1988 after a long and extremely successful campaign by the local community. In that time, dedicated fundraising has ensured that well over £1million has been contributed by the local community to build, maintain and support the facility.

However, under proposals put forward by the Devon Integrated Care Board (ICB), a whole wing of the hospital would be demolished to reduce the cost of maintaining the facilities. The space is currently rented by the Devon ICB from NHS Property Services. The wing, set across two floors, has gone largely unused since 2017, when the hospital saw the removal of several wards and beds. The level of care available at the hospital site was then reduced. However, several offices across the second floor are home to the palliative nurse team and other teams.

In order to protect this important local health facility and ensure its long-term future, both Seaton & District Hospital League of Friends and Re:store have joined with local MP Richard Foord to set out a vision for how to bring this part of the hospital to life. This would involve setting up a new ‘care hub’, which would offer a wide range of services.

Under their plans, the space used to increase support for people affected by dementia and frailty – including their families. It would be used to provide the very best care at the end of life, and it would offer bereavement support. There is also scope to develop the space for exercise and groups that promote physical and mental wellbeing. To make these plans viable, they are urging NHS Property Services to classify the space as non-clinical and review the rental arrangement for community groups and local charities.

This would enable savings for the NHS and could potentially reduce the cost to other parts of the NHS, as local charities would use the hospital to work for our communities. The charities believe that Seaton Hospital is the ideal space to run these services, as it currently has an unoccupied wing adjacent to the NHS outpatient and therapy departments. By bringing these services under one roof, they believe there will be opportunities for individuals to access multiple relevant services, without difficult, costly travel.

Their call has been supported by the local MP Richard Foord, who believes community hospitals are a vital community asset and has previously campaigned to restore the beds and services which have been lost from these facilities in recent years.

Devon’s Liberal Democrat MP Richard Foord said:

“Seaton Community Hospital is a much-loved community asset. Local people are passionate about protecting their hospital and keeping services local, with organisations like the League of Friends and others having helped to raise huge sums of money to support the hospital.

“We’ve seen in recent years the damage that can be caused when vital healthcare facilities like this are scaled back; it can leave people struggling to get the care they need and puts extra pressure on staff working at the RD&E or out in the community, as people have nowhere else to turn.

“Seeking to demolish a large part of the hospital’s current premises feels like a step towards getting rid of some of our community hospitals altogether. It’s a short-sighted move that fails to take into account the huge benefit that could be delivered if the space was repurposed for the benefit of the community.

“I fully support the plans to revive the space and turn it into a new ‘care hub’ to offer a new range of specialist services to support our ageing population and ensure the long-term future of the hospital as a whole is protected.

“I shall be writing to NHS Property Services about this situation, to see if we can come to an arrangement that will enable these innovative plans to go ahead. I urge the local community and voluntary groups to get involved and help develop this new vision for care in Seaton.”

Commenting Dr Mark Welland, Chair of Trustees for Seaton & District Hospital League of Friends, said:

“Proposals to demolish a whole wing of Seaton Hospital are deeply concerning. Seen from a distance it could be seen as financially sensible to demolish an unused hospital wing in order to reduce the cost of maintaining the space. However, seen from the local level it clearly is nonsense to destroy a local asset and weaken access to care for an ageing population.  

“The current arrangement, which sees Devon’s Integrated Care Board rent the space from the NHS, simply doesn’t work for rural areas like ours. It is the product of an NHS business model designed for the large scale, but which has become a barrier at the small scale to providing services responsive to local community needs.  

“Local charities and organisations are already demonstrating their ability to work alongside the NHS to enhance local services. Examples in Seaton are the work of Re:store in providing mental health support, balance classes, and the League of Friends commissioning nursing support at the end of life.  

“We are now asking NHS Property Services to change the rental arrangement and recognise the wider cost savings that our services will provide, by enabling local charities to use the full potential of Seaton Hospital to work for our community.”

Ben Tucker, Community Co-ordinator and Director of Re:store, added:

“Re:store has the privilege of running a small café space in Seaton hospital and also being Seaton’s ‘Voluntary Sector Representative’ working closely with NHS care teams. As an organisation we run, host and showcase local community groups, such as citizen's advice, young people's mental health group and strength and balance classes.  

“We are regularly asked by groups for space to meet and where possible we give our café over to make this possible, however we are in need of additional room to facilitate these increasing requests and the added resources and wellbeing opportunities they would provide.  

“Unfortunately, we are unable to access the empty space within Seaton Hospital or afford the high costs associated, which is suggested to be £247 per square metre annually. Increasing wellbeing and preventative help locally would not only support the NHS in caring for the community but ultimately reduce the workload it is dealing with.”

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