I thank the Minister for his intervention and I welcome it, but I say gently to him and NHS England, which I am sure is monitoring this, that all that good work will be entirely undone if we then lose our acute services at North Devon district hospital. This is not about figures on a spreadsheet; it is about the services and healthcare provision that my constituents will receive in Barnstable.
I am aware of the time, Mrs Main, but I want to raise a second issue, which is important and recognisable to us in North Devon, but perhaps not to those beyond: our unique geography and the distances. An Australian historian once referred to the tyranny of distance, and I think we suffer from that in North Devon. If one looks at a map, it is all too easy to think that there is a decent road network between Barnstaple and Exeter. I can give several reasons why that would be a wrong assumption. First, vast numbers of people live in isolated regions far north of Barnstaple. Secondly, the road network is not all it is cracked up to be—although that is a subject for another day and one on which I am fighting heavily.
My main point is that what no map or distance table shows is that in North Devon we have pockets of serious deprivation. In Ilfracombe, I have two of the most deprived wards in the south-west and by some metrics the most deprived in south England. In those areas car ownership is less than 80%. Put another way, one in five households do not have access to their own private transport and, because of the demographics, some of those who do are elderly and perhaps have their own vehicle but simply would not feel comfortable or up to going long distances to Exeter or Plymouth. Those two reasons alone are sufficient to argue strongly that the last place where we should be looking to make cuts to acute services is at North Devon district hospital.
I am aware of the time, Mrs Main, so I will conclude. I welcome the fact that the Government are looking at the funding. I welcome the repeated assurances that local clinicians will make the final decisions. However, I want it to be in no doubt whatever—the community of North Devon are very clear about this—that North Devon is a special case and needs to be treated as such. In that regard, I make no apologies whatever for fighting for North Devon and for appealing for there to be common sense and no cuts at North Devon district hospital.