A petition has been launched to try and save Exmouth from losing its out of hours GP service.
As of next month, any patient wishing to see an out of hours doctor at weekends will have to travel to Exeter or Honiton.
Campaigning to keep what is regarded as a vital service in the community is Allison Rourke, from Exmouth. Within less than 24 hours of her launching the online petition it had already been signed by nearly 700 people.
Among those who have posted comments is Julia Burston, from Exmouth. She said: “Centralisation of services do not work. This will lead to increased work load on already stretched services.
“Exmouth is the largest town in east Devon, not everyone has transport to Exeter.We have a large number of vulnerable and low income families that cannot afford public transport to Exeter, and public transport to Honiton is very poor.
“Please look at the bigger picture.”
Jules Edge, from Lympstone, added: “I’ve used this service so much for my young sons and myself. It’s too far to go to Exeter or Honiton.
“How about people who don’t drive? The town is big enough to justify this service. Lives will be at risk.”
Also concerned about peoples’ safety, Rachel Baker, from Cullompton, said: “It saved my granddaughters life when she had meningitis.”
Out of hours GP care for people with urgent problems who cannot wait until their GP practice opens is currently provided by Devon Doctors between 6pm and 8am, and at weekends.It is accessed by calling the NHS 111 telephone service, and the outcome of the call could be self-treatment at home, attending a local treatment centre or a GP coming to visit the patient at home.
Currently there are 15 treatment centres which are based in district general and community hospitals around Devon. As of October 3, they will reduce to nine, and some centres will no longer have out of hours services between 12am and 8am, such as Tiverton and Honiton.
It is also believed the amount of Devon Doctor cars to cover the region from 12am to 8am will be reduced by two. This will leave four cars to undertake home visits and return to their bases to see previous arranged treatment patients.
The changes have come as part of Devon Doctors becoming a new one integrated urgent care service provider by also taking on the 111 service on October 1, currently being delivered by the South West Ambulance Service Trust.
Speaking when the changes were reported in the Echo in July, Annette Hammett, director of operations at Devon Doctors, said: “The changes are in line with the national strategy for integrated urgent care services.
“We are confident the service will be streamlined and sufficient clinicians from 111 and out of hours will manage patients safely who need urgent care in out of hours situations.
“Calls will also be dealt with more efficiently at the 111 stage. We are still in discussions with Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group (NEW Devon CCG) about the service model, and we’re talking to staff.”
Among local health services opposing the changes is Claremont Medical Practice in Exmouth.
In a post on its Facebook page it said: “We have been very concerned to learn there will no longer be a GP based in Exmouth during the evening or weekend. It means from October, patients will need to travel to Exeter or Honiton.
“Previously there have been two GPs working continuously from Exmouth hospital, all day Saturday and Sunday.
“They cover Exmouth, Budleigh and Woodbury, so 70,000 patients are about to lose their local out of hours medical cover.
“The only chance we have of reversing this decision is to let the people making the policies know how wrong this is.”
To sign the petition visit www.change.org and search ‘keep out of hours doctors at Exmouth Hospital’.
Objections can also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org