DEPUTY Prime Minister John Prescott swept into a former steel town yesterday to drum up support for the Yes vote in the referendum for an elected North-East regional assembly.

During his whistlestop tour of Consett, County Durham, he was confronted over the downgrading of services at the Shotley Bridge Hospital.

Moira McKean said patients had to catch a taxi costing £10 to get to University Hospital of North Durham for some treatments, to which Mr Prescott highlighted the increased investment in the NHS.

Mr Prescott said: "I have never been here before. It is not on my regular route, but I got a very warm feeling from people here.

"Consett is known for the terrible tragedy of the closure of the steelworks.

"It is nice to come a look at the low level of unemployment now.

"There is still a lot to do about it, but that is what this referendum is all about.

"It is about increasing the prosperity of the region."

Mr Prescott later visited Sunderland.