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Cottage Hospitals

Volume 173: debated on Tuesday 5 June 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health what policy changes his Department has instituted during the last six months with regard to cottage hospitals; and if he will make a statement.

There has been no change in the position. It is for health authorities to determine the pattern of services in their own locality.

Is the Minister aware of the comments by the Secretary of State on 10 October when he said that the Government's new funding arrangements would ensure that

"popular cottage hospitals will thrive"?
As there are now six small cottage hospitals under the axe for closure in my county, will the hon. Gentleman confirm whether that is because a different policy is being pursued in Wales or because there has been a change of policy in the Department of Health, which means that such hospitals in England are in as much danger as are those in Wales?

No, Sir. There has been no change of policy. The same policy is pursued in Wales and England. The policy is to allow greater delegation of decision-making to local level. Where there is a genuine and sustained local demand for a community hospital, that will be seen in the purchasing decisions taken from next April onwards.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the cottage hospital provides a signal service in rural areas, especially where travelling distances are great? Does he recognise that there is a feeling in the southern part of my constituency that Herefordshire district health authority is being frustrated in its attempt to redevelop Ross cottage hospital into a community hospital by a less than fully co-operative attitude on the part of West Midlands regional health authority? Will he be careful that any advice that he gives to the regional health authorities reflects the wish to sustain the viability and independence of the health authority to provide what it deems to be appropriate for an area and that no element of discouragement floats in?

One great virtue of our reforms is that we shall be rather less heavy handed than we may have been in the past in the type of advice that we offer from the centre to a district health authority. I believe that as a result there will be greater diversity of local decisions and of health care available and the manner in which it is provided. We hope that that will lead to improved standards and more uniformity in the quality of health care, which in the end is what the patient is interested in.

Has the Minister considered the possibility of setting up a royal commission to look into cottage hospitals with a view to safeguarding their future? He could put in charge a man who is desperate for a job—he sits below the Gangway—and who is the last leader of the SDP. He has done a good job for the Tory party over the years and the Minister could repay him the compliment.

The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) will be grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his concern about his future well-being.