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This was a great Budget for the NHS, but a week is indeed a long time in politics. North Devon District Hospital is the UK’s most remote mainland hospital and is unavoidably small. Our population is significantly older than the UK average, with more than a quarter of people being over 65, versus just 18% nationally. North Devon’s population reflects how the UK will look in about 20 years’ time, so getting our healthcare right is an essential blueprint for other regions during this crisis and in the future, and it is important to recognise how our solutions may differ from those elsewhere in the UK. We are delighted to be flagged as one of the 40 new hospitals, but unfortunately new buildings alone will not resolve the complex issues our hospital faces. As the most remote UK hospital on the mainland, we incur significant additional costs of delivery due to the diseconomies of scale of serving a small and geographically dispersed population. Although the community services formula goes some way to redressing this, it is not enough.
Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust receives a rural premium of £3 million, but it believes that the deficit caused by remoteness is, in fact, £14 million. This then disadvantages other health systems in Devon, which have to supplement the difference. Despite this clearly being a levelling up of services within Devon, it is not the solution to the issue. I am delighted to see additional funding into our much-loved NHS, but I hope that further steps will be taken to ensure that the rurality and unique nature of North Devon’s population and location will be fully recognised as plans for our new hospital progress and as covid-19 does too.
While speaking in the Budget debate, it would be remiss of me not to mention a sector that is not always recognised for its public service—that performed by our pubs, particularly the more rural ones. My village pubs provide defibrillators, community shops, post offices and the opportunity to go somewhere to chat. This is vital when so many communities are remote and rural isolation is a real issue. Up until a few hours ago, a chat over a pint or non-alcoholic beverage could make a huge difference to someone’s day.
The Budget did recognise how important pubs are, especially in communities such as mine, where they are often the last remaining place to gather in a village. The freezing of spirit, beer and cider duty was warmly welcomed, as was the extension of the business rates discount to £5,000. However, in the light of the difficult and escalating situation with the coronavirus, I very much hope that my rural publicans are watching Parliament TV and hear me saying that I will do whatever I can to support them as we go through the challenges of the coming weeks and months, and I very much hope that they will provide the public service they always do to our local community.
The Budget was a very positive step for our public services. We are the party of our public services, we are the party of the NHS, and I hope over the coming weeks we will show ourselves also to be the party of the pub.