Health secretary Matt Hancock has accepted Swindon has a GP recruitment problem.

The borough is 25 per cent short of its quota of full-time GPs, with the number dropping from 125 to 116 in the last two years.

And the Great Western Hospital has experienced frequent surges in demand which leave some patients in A&E waiting as long as 18 hours for a bed.

Out on the campaign trail in Old Town with south Swindon candidate Robert Buckland yesterday he said: “I appreciate there have been challenges in providing primary care services across Swindon.

“Robert Buckland and Justin Tomlinson have been constantly lobbying me on behalf of the people of Swindon to sort it out. I’m delighted that two months ago, we managed to fix the problem with the contracts and now we need to hire the extra GPs. There is a plan in place to ensure Swindon gets the support it needs to hire the practice staff needed to make sure GP services are as strong as possible.

Asked why long standing problems with bed blocking and waiting times had not been tackled before now he said: “We’re putting £30 million into GWH in terms of an upgraded A&E which will mean that there are better services available.There’s been an increase in demand for A&E right across the country. It’s one of the reasons we need to hire more people and build more A&E facilities.

“Part of the £30m is to ensure there’s an urgent treatment centre available at GWH and we need to make sure we have better GP provision. It’s a problem we need to fix,” he admitted.

Mental health provision in Swindon suffered a serious blow this week when Swindon CCG confirmed that the place of safety in Sandalwood Court would remain closed despite protests.

Mr Hancock defended the move. “That was a clinical decision based on making sure the best quality services were available in one place. There’s an increase in mental health spending and the decision was taken to ensure you get the best care.

“I understand that having to travel for 40 minutes to Devizes is something we need to make sure we get right but it was a clinically-led decision taken a couple of months ago to make this change,” he said.

“I’d be open to the prospect of it reopening, though you have to listen to what the clinicians say about what’s the best way to deliver care but it’s something I’m working with Robert and Justin on.”