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Community Hospitals

Volume 551: debated on Tuesday 23 October 2012

6. What assessment he has made of the role of community hospitals in the range of local health care and hospital provision. (124139)

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of community hospitals in his constituency and elsewhere. They can provide high-quality care close to home, particularly for people with long-term conditions and the frail and elderly.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. If there is a conflict between local health officials and local people as to the desirability of a community hospital, as there is in Littlehampton in relation to the Littlehampton community hospital, which most people in the town want to see rebuilt, whose views should prevail—the NHS employees or the local residents of Littlehampton?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. As he is well aware, it is down to local commissioners—local doctors—in Littlehampton to decide, in consultation with local communities, what is good health care. Of course, we must not get fixated on buildings in the NHS. I know there is a local campaign to support the re-establishment of Littlehampton district hospital, and although that may be a very desirable end, there may be many other ways in which high-quality health care can be provided for his constituents closer to home.

From April, my local health centre will be transferred to a national property company, a quango, in Whitehall. How can local people in Hyndburn regain some influence over this health centre and its use after April?

Part of reorganising services and delivering good health care is about clinical leadership—I hope that is supported across the House—and local doctors, nurses and health care professionals saying what is important for their patients and what local health care priorities are. Obviously, local communities need to be engaged in that process, but what really matters is what is good for patients and delivers high-quality care for them. We need to deliver more care in the community, and in doing so we have to recognise that some of the ways we have delivered care in the past—picking up the pieces in hospitals when people are broken—need to change. We have to do more to keep people well at home and in their own communities.

Given that the maternity unit at Berwick infirmary has been suspended since the beginning of August for safety reasons, with births being referred to a hospital 50 miles away, will the Minister take into account the urgent need to provide the necessary clinical support for community hospitals in remote areas so that they can provide local essential services to the highest standards?

I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. We discussed this issue in the Adjournment debate before the autumn recess. He is a strong advocate for his local maternity services. The concern was that only 13 births take place at his local maternity unit every year, and whether staff can continue to deliver high-quality care with such a low number of births. Of course, his local providers will want to consider the rurality of the area and the potential, as outlined in the Birthplace study, of rotating staff in and out of the hospital to support his local unit.