Mr Hancock had been invited to the hospital by Mr Swire, who earlier this morning took him on a tour around Budleigh Salterton Hospital, which is now a health and wellbeing hub.

I understand that the Department of Health was unaware of the visit and it was solely arranged through Mr Swire’s office.

I was contacted by ITV late yesterday to be interviewed about the hospital, as the Devon County Councillor for the area, and because of my work in trying to help save hospital beds and buildings, in my role as a Devon County Council Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee Councillor.

As I was being interviewed by ITV this morning, the ministerial Jaguar drove past, slowed up sharply as the inhabitants of the car spotted me, and then drove into the car park.  Mr Hancock was welcomed into the building as I was being interviewed.

I understand that there were a number of local Conservatives present inside, including Sara Randall Johnson, chair of the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee.  East Devon MP, Mr Swire and his aides were of course, also present.

As around a dozen of us were waiting quietly outside the building for Mr Hancock to exit. After around half an hour an officer from the Communications Department of the NEW Devon Clinical Commissioning Group came out and asked me what I wanted.

He asked us to leave because this wasn’t “a political event” – a bizarre reason, given the number of (Conservative) politicians in the building at that moment!

The officer asked what I wanted. I replied that I wanted to talk to Mr Hancock and that we would be staying until Mr Hancock left.  He looked doubtful and responded:  “Hmm, I’ll see how that plays out inside.”

A few minutes later the ministerial Jaguar slowly moved away from the building. We guessed it was driving around the back. We followed. 

And waited next to it at the back door.

After about 10 minutes a senior NHS manager stuck her head out of the door and said: “Hello Claire” and promptly shut the door again!

But the chauffeur had his instructions, started the ignition, activated the blue flashing lights, (presumably normally used in the case of security alerts!) and sped around to the front entrance of the hospital.

We followed in hot pursuit, almost crashing into the media and NHS communications officers, who were rapidly making their way around the back.

We arrived at the front just in time to see Mr Hancock and his team jump into his Jaguar with its flashing lights. I tried to call to him but he was too far away and didn’t answer.

We then moved quickly off the road as the car sped through the car park and left Thorne Farm Way, narrowly avoiding another vehicle that was arriving.

This man is the Secretary of State for Health. Why was he so frightened about talking to a dozen residents, and the local county councillor?!

I had been quite encouraged that he was visiting the hospital and wanted to hear from him that he will protect Ottery’s and other hospitals. After all, Mr Hancock commands the NHS and also NHS Property Services, which now owns many hospital buildings in the area. 

They are all at risk of possible closure and sell-off due to the lack of funding available to pay the enormous rents NHS Property Services demands.

But his cowardly escape bid simply gave the impression of a man who does not wish to be even remotely accountable. 

I really do hope that some good can come out of his visit.

Pic: The Secretary of State’s car with blue lights activated leaves the hospital’s rear entrance at speed.  For more photos see Twitter and my Facebook account at Claire Wright Independent Parliamentary Candidate