Please note that this website uses cookies necessary for the functioning of our website, cookies that optimize the performance, to provide social media features and to analyse website traffic.

I noted the artist’s impression of a new department store at a corner of Brunswick Street in the MDA of 27th August. But then read that this was in fact for ‘health’ and ‘wellbeing’ **.

I recall that this structure and its siting was discussed behind closed doors about a year ago. Mrs Sylvia Russell defended the secrecy by saying that commercial, or similar categories, needed confidentiality. So much for democracy and ‘localism’. The shiny proposal is set to house one of three general practices. General practice has been the bedrock of OUR NHS, and the main purpose in spending £8 million would be for a centre for the GPs and their skilled staff. Central to that would be face to face contact rather than ‘video links’ etc being forced upon our tired populations.

So I look to the foundations, as to any building, and avoid a sandy base.

What of the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and its roots?

The H&SC Bill of April 1st 2012 included the statutory provisions for the setting up of CCGs. It incidentally removed the duty of universal care to all UK citizens and allows DGHs to have up to 49% of its beds used for private patients.

The CCG part of this Bill included the election of GPs to the CCGs from all general practices. I was told either in writing or verbally by an officer of the Torbay and South Devon CCG that in its case some GPs were elected and others put themselves forward and were then subject to a ‘selection process’. So this powerful CCG was NOT properly constituted. But how lawful is it now?

Of the Governing Body members there are 6 doctors, one nurse and 13 lay members. One of the latter is a PhD in ‘system dynamics’ which speaks for itself. I believe that all general practicioners in Devon are now members of the CCG. How are they consulted about fundamental changes like the complete closure of Teignmouth Community Hospital, the first hospital built by OUR NHS after a war for freedom from totalitarianism which bankrupted Great Britain for years to follow? And remember and honour the 7 patients and 3 nurses who were murdered by the Luftwaffe in ‘collateral damage’. A very large majority of GPs remained silent when 70% of community hospital beds were being closed in Devon. They knew that there would be inhuman consequences with further hamstringing of the district hospitals. One certain effect would be their need to spend more time writing and ‘phone calling for priority in the care of their patients suffering pain, disability, symptoms and signs of cancer etc etc.

How many of these hundreds of Devon GPs know about Teignmouth Community Hospital and its recuperative and fine site overlooking Lyme Bay, shimmering as I write on this most beautiful day?

But more to the point - which persons from the Governing Body have visited the hospital and spoken with staff, and to patients, past and present? Have Drs Johnson, Womersley, Kennedy, Kerr and McCormick, and Chief Nursing Officer, Darryn Allcorn, done so? Dr Greenwell, GP in Dawlish will be familiar with all aspects I presume.

These questions are the foundations of any discussion about the proposed construction in a crowded part of Teignmouth. I ask through your columns for Dr Paul Johnson to answer these. I know he trained in the care of the elderly after qualification, and then chose to be a general practioner. He is thus very well qualified in the essentials of caring for people who often have several of the ‘morbidities’ of advancing age – myself excluded! He will know that about 40% of those over 75 live alone.

In my last years in service at the wonderful Princess Elizabeth Orthopaedic Hospital at Wonford- Exeter, I arranged this – for efficiency and for the humane management of patients, mostly with the pain and disability of arthritis.

Patients who were frail, who had other disease, or who lived alone, were known about when they were called in by Mary Gebbauer, the Admissions officer. Of interest, she managed the to and fro of 120 beds without any computer, but instead did a very good job with a card index and a peg board with golf tees. Mine was purple. She remembered so many details of each patient, as did the orthopaedic clinic supervisor Hazel Powell at Torbay Hospital. A bed was booked in the appropriate one of a dozen hospitals as they were called in for operation. I asked for the sisters in those hospitals to be invited up to the PEOH to learn the ropes of caring for people with hip and knee ‘replacements’, and the like. On the fifth post-operative day these humans were taken to the hospital nearest their homes for further loving care. It was kindly and efficient. Just one good function of many provided by community hospitals. ‘Care at home’ is at least uncertain.

Will this ‘consultation’ be like the one for Ashburton Hospital? A large majority were against the closure of its eight in-patient beds. This senior doctor and surgeon spent thousands of hours in defence of it and others. Search ‘david halpin’ - search ‘community hospitals’ - 32 refs. And not one word of his was quoted in the 19 page summary of the ‘consultation’ by a lay person.

By the way. What of C19 and the clearing of almost all district hospital beds in the face of the shamed Neil Ferguson’s predicted 500,000 deaths in the UK alone? If the world reknowned PEOH had not been bulldozed in 1996 for money alone, there being no logic or reason in medical terms, this hospital could have taken over all emergency surgery whilst the RD&E could have served those thousands within a ‘pandemic’.

Think back again to WW2. Those terrible injuries to our servicemen were dealt with by the Force’s medical corps without a vast bureacracy, and very well. I was privileged to have been taught at the PEOH by fine masters. Freddie Durbin, Cyril Jeffery and Geoffrey Blundell-Jones had each been war surgeons. Freddie got poliomyelitis in the Desert Campaign and had to be flown back to ‘blighty’ in an iron lung. But he survived to be the lynch pin of the PEOH and the trauma service at the old RD&E in Southernhay. I bow my head.

David Halpin MB BS FRCS

Footnote. ** ‘Wellbeing’. Try to find a good definition in a dictionary. ‘All things to all people’. It is a junk word, like stakeholder and ‘healthcare’, the latter a neologism and often a disguise.

This article first appeared in the Western Morning News Thursday, 17th September 2020