More than 10,000 people have signed a petition calling for an urgent debate on the reduction in community hospital beds in North Devon. Members of trade union Unite warn that the recent permanent closure of beds at Bideford and Ilfracombe will hit the care of the elderly. During the last two years, bed numbers in North Devon have fallen from more than 100 to just 40. In-patient beds have been retained at community hospitals in South Molton and Holsworthy.Ten overnight beds were permanently closed at Torrington Community Hospital in November last year. Northern Devon Healthcare Trust believes it can provide a better model of care for patients, focusing on maintaining their independence by supporting them at home.But today (Tuesday), Unite members gathered at County Hall in Exeter to deliver a petition urging Devon County Council to take action. They say rural hospital funding has failed to keep pace with need in the county, which has some of the biggest populations of over-50s in England. Unite regional officer Mark Richards said: The first step in the campaign is to persuade the Tory-controlled Devon County Council to pressurise the government to make up the shortfall over inadequate funding for the NHS in rural areas. There needs to be more finance to ensure that the health and social care system in Devon works in a seamless fashion. These community beds are predominately occupied by elderly patients, who may be recovering from a fall, for example. Elderly people depend on having places to go to recuperate after health crises and need to be in acute care; now those places are being removed. Hospitals would lose all overnight inpatient beds. The lack of such beds raises serious concerns that care for patients sent back to their own homes will not be adequately resourced and would leave vulnerable, isolated people at serious risk of suffering health complications. Unite community activists in North Devon and Torridge will soon be launching a programme of support for people adversely affected by failures in care to support them in obtaining the care they deserve. The union said it will help people navigate the complex dividing line between social and NHS care, so that people receive the best care possible.