The row over beds at Ross-on-Wye Community Hospital continued at the full meeting of Ross Town Council on Monday, March 13th.

During the meeting, Councillors became embroiled in a passionate debate about the hospital, when they considered whether to send a response to the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) in relation to the draft sustainability and transformation plan (STP).

A statement, making clear the Town Council’s support for the Hospital, had been drafted by the council’s Planning Committee.

During a vote, six Councillors voted in favour of sending it to the CCG, and six voted against. The Mayor of Ross, Cllr David Ravenscroft had the casting vote, and it was decided not to send the statement on the draft STP.

The statement said: “Ross-on-Wye Town Council recognises the challenges facing the NHS in Herefordshire.

“The Draft Sustainability and Transformation Plan envisages many more services being delivered locally and a far greater degree of integration between health and social care services. The Town Council supports these changes.

“There have been reports in the local press that the idea of ‘bedless hospitals’ needs to be debated. The Town Council wishes to make it clear that it is completely opposed to Ross Community Hospital being emptied of its beds.”

During the Town Council’s meeting, Cllr Chris Bartrum said that the Town Council had delegated the task to respond to the STP to the Planning Committee in December.

Councillor Nigel Gibbs, the Deputy Mayor, said that within the response drafted by the Planning Committee, in two sections, they had responded to reports in the press, where they should have only been responding to the plan itself.

Cllr Phil Cutter, the County Councilor for East Ward, commented that there is still uncertainty about what the STP entails. “We should first find out what the proposals are before we go spouting off,” he commented. “Let’s leave it alone before we find out what the procedures are.”

Cllr Richard Mayo said: “I can’t support sending the statement on behalf of the Town Council either.”

He said he had been in contact with Simon Hairsnape, the Chief Executive Officer of the Herefordshire Clinical Commissioning Group. Mr Hairsnape had written: “The draft STP does highlight that our hospital beds are not necessarily in the right place i.e. we probably do have too many community hospital beds and too few acute beds at the County Hospital.”

However, he continued: “At the moment there are no plans to make any specific changes and it’s not correct to say the NHS is seeking to close the Community Hospital beds in Ross.”

Cllr Mayo said: “That puts that to bed as far as I’m concerned.”

However, Cllr Caroline Utting pointed out that the draft plan did say there could be cuts to beds in the future, so she could not see why the Town Council would not say it was opposed to cuts to any beds at any point. “It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have an opinion,” she said.

Cllr Jenny Hyde said: “I refute any suggestion that any of us here don’t support our hospital.” She added that whatever the vote, all of the Town Councillors recognise the hospital as an important asset in the community.

Cllr Bartrum said the best way for the Town Council to have the maximum effect within responding to the draft STP was to make their opinion known early in the process. He said: “We have to get in there and say ’It’s not going to be Ross’. If we wait further down the line, some of these proposals could be set in stone.”

Last week, the Ross Gazette reported that a petition, started by local resident, Julian Utting, which demands the community hospital does not become ’bedless’, was branded as “irresponsible” by a Conservative Councillor, Frank Myers MBE.

Both Mr Myers and Mr Utting spoke to the Town Council during the public participation section of the meeting.

Mr Utting, who is also standing in the Ross-on-Wye by-election on March 23rd, said: “I have over 500 signatures, including support from many health professionals, since (the petition was started) against any beds being cut to Ross Community Hospital and I urge this council to take this into account."

My Utting added that on page 46 of the STP, it discusses community hospitals becoming ‘bedless’. The report states: “Some community hospitals may be able to operate as bedless, e.g. as a “locality hub” for domiciliary based community services integrated with primary care.”

However, Mr Myers argued that he did not recognise the “disturbed publicity” that had been given to the petition, and the STP was about improving patient care.

He added that quotes from the STP had been taken out of context, and he feared that the confidence of local healthcare staff had been undermined.