NORTHERN Devon Healthcare Trust chief executive Dr Alison Diamond has written an open letter to address "the outpouring of support" she has seen for protecting local hospital services.
In the letter, which can be read in full below, Dr Diamond apologised for the way in which the publication of "a very early draft of the Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP)" had "caused many of you a great deal of concern".
However, Dr Diamond said she would "make no apology" for the fact there was a draft plan.
"As taxpayers, we all expect the NHS to find a way through the challenge of continuing to provide excellent care, whilst modernising our services within the budget we receive," she added.
Below is Dr Diamond's letter in full:
"Over the last few weeks I have seen an outpouring of support for the services we deliver at North Devon District Hospital and I have read many powerful stories about your experiences of our care.
"I want you to know that we are also very proud of the services we deliver and of the staff who deliver them.
"Our nurses, doctors, therapists and support staff work extremely hard to provide the best possible care for our patients, and their dedication in caring for our families and friends, despite the challenges faced by the NHS, is inspirational.
"That being said, they cannot just keep working harder and harder to keep the system going. We must recognise that change is needed in order to improve the outcomes for our patients, our communities and our staff.
"We have been very clear that the NHS in Devon is facing both clinical and financial sustainability challenges and we need to do something about it.
"The Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) and the Success Regime are that something. (These are the names given to the plans devised by the many health and social care organisations that make up Devon).
"I know the publication of a very early draft of the STP has caused many of you a great deal of concern and I want to take this opportunity to apologise for the way in which this happened.
"However, I make no apology for there being a draft plan. As taxpayers, we all expect the NHS to find a way through the challenge of continuing to provide excellent care whilst modernising our services within the budget we receive.
"Within this draft plan, no decisions have been made in relation to any services at North Devon District Hospital, and this includes the maternity unit.
"The services that you are so passionate about are not being reviewed in isolation.
"All health and social care services throughout Devon are being looked at as part of the Success Regime and the STP. The review includes services in Exeter, Plymouth and South Devon.
"The process for determining the ultimate configuration of maternity and paediatric services has not yet begun.
"What we do know is that, of course, there will always be babies being born in North Devon and therefore we will always need to provide the appropriate safe maternity services for babies and their mothers.
"The STP is not something that is being done to us. You are being represented by me, by Trust executives and by the senior clinical teams. Over the coming months, clinicians, including many from the Trust, will be reviewing acute services across Devon.
"This means you are being represented by people who are well aware of the remoteness of the area they live in. We are unlikely to know the outcome of this review before the summer.
"I would like finish by reassuring you that, as the accountable officer for the Trust, I am responsible for delivering high-quality and safe services for 170,000 people in North Devon, and that responsibility will remain with me."
Dr Alison Diamond
Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust