COMMUNITY hospitals in North Devon are not facing closure but evolving, says the Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust.
Dr Chris Bowman, vice chairman of the North Devon Locality Commissioning Board, made the comment when North Devon councillors were given the chance to quiz senior members of staff from the Trust.
The claim community hospitals would evolve, rather than close, came towards the end of the Q&A session, when Councillor Rodney Cann sought assurances about the community hospitals' futures.
The first time Mr Cann asked Dr Bowman told him the Trust was looking into "whether beds are being used in the right way, and do hospitals have the right number?"
Mr Cann said that "set alarm bells ringing" and asked for clarity, which Dr Bowman duly provided with his assurances the hospitals wouldn't close.
However shortly after Kate Lyons, the Trust's operations manager, added: "We have been told by a task group to provide services for populations and not to be wedded to bricks and mortar.
"If you count beds we have 96 in North Devon's community hospitals, but we should be providing services for thousands of people."
And after the meeting Mr Cann said his concerns hadn't really been addressed.
"I fear the community hospitals as they are have no real future in their existing form," he said.
Dr Bowman added that although the Trust knows what services need providing, it doesn't necessarily know how best to provide them.
"The public should be at the heart of our decision making process," he said. "So we're looking at North Devon as six communities."
He said the Trust hoped to assess what the populations of each community are most in need of and provide it in the area, perhaps using the community hospitals as a centre.
An example of that, he said, could come in Holsworthy, where the possibility of providing palliative care has been looked into.
"Deer Park is an hour away for anyone from Holsworthy with serious or terminal illnesses," he said.
"Do terminally ill people need to travel that far if there's a resource that could provide that service nearer?"