Community hospitals can play a hugely important role in the 21st-century NHS. The NHS “Five Year Forward View” explicitly recognised the role of smaller hospitals, including community hospitals, as part of the new care models towards which we need to evolve. Specific local commissioning decisions are rightly taken by local clinical commissioning groups, reflecting local need.
We have excellent hospitals in Tiverton, Honiton, Axminster and Seaton, and there could be a much greater link between them and the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust. For example, patients could be moved to the community hospital in Axminster after acute operations, thereby creating space at the RD and E and keeping Axminster hospital open with beds, which the population is keen to see.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his tireless work on this matter. I know that he recently met the Secretary of State to discuss it and that he has been very active locally and here in Parliament. He is right that local community hospitals can play a key role in supporting patient convalescence, providing particularly good care in the community close to home, which is convenient for elderly patients, and relieving pressure on acute hospital beds. You do not have to take it from me, Mr Speaker; take it from Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England. He recently said:
“A number of other countries have found it possible to run viable local hospitals serving smaller communities than sometimes we think are sustainable in the NHS…The NHS needs to abandon a fixation with ‘mass centralisation’”.
I hugely welcome that.