The battle to save the historic Teignmouth Hospital continues after Devon County Councillors voted unanimously to start the process of referring the hospital closure to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.
The vote was based on a task-force report presented to the committee which detailed the concerns about the potential impact of the planned closure on the community and wider local healthcare provision.
The report to the committee also suggested the idea of the hospital site being purchased and developed for the benefit of the community.
Before the issue is referred to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the proposals will be sent back to the NHS for a response.
Campaigners staged a demonstration outside County Hall before giving evidence before the county council's health scrutiny committee.
Teignmouth Hospital, the first NHS hospital to be built in the country in the 1950s, has been under threat of closure since 2018 with a new £8m health centre planned for the town.
Price estimates for the centre now stand at around £20m.
Issues put forward against the closure plan revolved around costs, bed space and delivery of care.
Cllr Chris Clarence noted that pressure on local NHS services was only going to increase.
Cllr Clarence said: 'The government has asked us to up our game and build yet more houses than ever before. All political parties advocate house building to high levels like ours.
'So if we’re going to build all these houses, how are we going to look after everybody in the NHS system when we’re told we have an ever-raging population? Not by closing hospitals, when we’ve heard that Newton Abbot Hospital and Dawlish Hospital have no spare bed capacity already.'
One proposal to ease pressure on hospital beds has been to treat people in their own homes. Cllr Clarence responded: 'We all agree the best place to recover from an illness and hospitalisations is at home, but home care policies are all too often letting patients down: irregular attendance, not knowing when carers will turn up, huge turnover of staff, large amounts of time being spent in a car, thus not satisfactory for many elderly single patients desperately trying to recover from hospital isolation. Hence we need the likes of Teignmouth Hospital to function within the NHS system.'
Geralyn Arthurs, a campaigner from the Friends of Teignmouth Hospital, said: 'There is no cost benefit to this proposal and what they are doing is actually more expensive.
'Secondly, the model of care actually does not do what they claim it does.'
Cllr Martin Wrigley, the Deputy Chair of the Scrutiny Committee has long advocated against the plans to shut the hospital
On the vote, Cllr Wrigley said: 'This is incredible news. It really says very strongly that something needs to change in the proposals to actually make it work for people.'
Speaking on the closure plans, Cllr Wrigley said: 'It just doesn't add up. The question we were addressing was whether is this in the long-term interests of the health service for the area.
That's open to a whole different range of interpretations. But however you look at it, you've got to think about how this will cope with situations in some years' time beyond what is currently envisaged. And to me, it's very clear that if you build a new centre that has effectively no extra space to expand; come the point when you need to expand, you can't.'
Since the original plans were tabled in 2018, Cllr Wrigley contended that times had changed: 'The project they're trying to do has expanded in cost beyond any belief or expectation. I think it has left a feeling that times have changed and we need to reconsider.
'We live in a different time now and it doesn't look right as it stands today, so we need to have it reconsidered.'
However, the odds are certainly not stacked in Teignmouth Hospital's favour. No referral to the Secretary of State has ever seen a closure overturned. But campaigners are willing to try.
Geralyn said: No hospital has ever had two referrals to the Secretary of State, and we will be entering into an election next year, so it will be a very stupid Secretary of State to close Teignmouth Hospital.
Martin added: 'I think it's a really good result, and whichever way it goes, we can get something better for the people of Teignmouth and Dawlish than we had going into it before we started this review and that makes it all worthwhile.'
Read the full story in next week's Teignmouth Post/Mid-Devon Advertiser.