Okehampton Councillors have voted in favour of registering the town’s hospital as an Asset of Community Value, in order to secure its future.
The proposal to apply for the official designation was put forward by Okehampton Mayor, Jan Goffey. It would mean that the council would be notified in advance if there was an attempt to sell-off the site by the owners, PropCo (the National Health Service Property Services Ltd).
It would also give the community the legal right to step in and buy the hospital property themselves, provided they could raise the asking price within six months.
Cllr David Weekes urged action on the issue at the full town council meeting.
‘I would be happy to protect the hospital now,’ said Cllr Weekes. ‘It is not going to cost us much to get this designation, and it is about safeguarding.
‘Anything we can do to safeguard the hospital, and let them know that it is important to us, has to be worth doing now, rather than dilly-dallying. They have probably made up their minds already [about whether to sell the site]. We’ve just got to stop them.’
The suggestion comes as the future of the hospital hangs in the balance, with inpatient beds having been closed in the summer and a question mark hanging over the future of the maternity beds, which are currently closed.
Campaigners in the town are looking to safeguard the future of the hospital, where 40 health clinics are held and which is still a base for nurses and midwives working in the community.
It is run by the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, although its long-term future is in the hands of the Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group.
‘I think what we don’t want is to turn around and find the whole thing has been bulldozed and 60 houses are in the process of being built,’ said Cllr Goffey. ‘They would have to notify us if it was listed as an Asset of Community Value. PropCo would have to notify us that this was what was in their minds.’
Okehampton Hospital was built in 2004 with contributions of £260,000 raised by people in and around Okehampton. In November last year, the Department of Health made the decision to transfer its ownership to an NHS property company PropCo, or National Health Service Property Services Ltd, along with the other 11 community hospitals in Devon.