asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many community hospitals she has authorised for the year 1975–76.
At present I am afraid that I cannot say which capital schemes will be authorised to start during 1975–76. Consultations have taken place with regional health authorities on tentative proposals for the 1975–76 programme. No final decisions will be taken until their priorities have been carefully considered. This should be very shortly.
Will the Minister say whether a new community hospital in Newbury may be in his thoughts? Will he also say what level of service community hospitals will provide and how their services will compare with those already provided by district hospitals?
No community hospital at Newbury is at present in the regional health authority programme. But the announcement of the Government's acceptance of the community hospital concept was made only last summer, and many regional health authorities will take time before they develop their programmes. The size and scope of the community hospitals will vary considerably from area to area.
Is the Minister able to assure the House that he is continuing to urge upon health authorities the desirability of retaining existing cottage hospitals where they have a future rôle as community hospitals now that there is a recognition of the place of community hospitals?
The recognition that in some rural areas the community hospital had a part to play where patients had to travel over great distances was a strong part of our announcement last summer on community hospitals. I cannot say that there will not be closures of some community hospitals, but I can reinforce the message of the White Paper that there is scope for smaller hospitals in rural areas and, in my view, in urban areas. The whole question of the size of the large district hospital is one which we shall have to call into question increasingly over the next few years.