The Secretary of State for Health made a surprise visit to North Devon District Hospital yesterday (Wednesday).

Jeremy Hunt departing from North Devon District Hospital. Picture: Matt SmartJeremy Hunt departing from North Devon District Hospital. Picture: Matt Smart

Patient safety, independence and domiciliary care were points of discussion as North Devon District Hospital (NDDH) welcomed the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt.

Mr Hunt made a 'private visit' to NDDH yesterday (Wednesday) as part of a tour of hospitals in the South West.

It is understood some hospital staff were not aware of his visit until he arrived at the Barnstaple hospital.

Mr Hunt and chief clinical advisor Sir Norman Williams met with some 50 members of staff including nurses, doctors, therapists and social care staff.

Jeremy Hunt departing from North Devon District Hospital. Picture: Matt SmartJeremy Hunt departing from North Devon District Hospital. Picture: Matt Smart

During the visit, Mr Hunt spoke to staff about patient safety, calling it a key focus for the health service.

He also spoke of how important it is for the NHS to be open and learn from mistakes.

In return, Mr Hunt received a presentation from one of Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trusts' ward managers, who presented the work her team has been doing to promote independence for dementia patients on Fortescue Ward.

Trust chief executive Dr Alison Diamond said the visit was a 'great opportunity' for the trust to show how it puts patient safety first.

She added: "We believe patients are safest in their own homes and it was fantastic to be able to share the work we are doing, both with our integrated health and social care services and with our community partners, to keep people independent and prevent admissions.

"It was also a great opportunity to talk about the improvements we have made for patients who are admitted to our hospitals, from preventing falls, to ensuring patients on our dementia ward remain independent."

The trust said the average length of stay in hospital has reduced by one day, with the number of stays longer than 14 days down by 15 per cent.

Mr Hunt said: "It was excellent to meet staff at Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust in Barnstaple.

"Staff should be rightly proud of the care they give to their local community, underpinned by a commitment to a culture of learning and improving.

"In particular, treating patients holistically to reduce their length of stay in hospital - recognising that in most cases the safest place for a person who needs care is in their own home."

The trust welcomed Minister of State for Health, Phillip Dunne to NDDH last month.