HC Deb 14 March 1972 vol 833 cc277-9
6. Mr. David Steel

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether, with a view to a community-oriented health service, he will now give an assurance that during the period of reconsideration of hospital planning, no more cottage hospitals will be closed.

Sir Keith Joseph

No, Sir. Each case of prospective closure will continue, as now, to be carefully considered and decisions reached in the light of all relevant circumstances.

Mr. Steel

Is the Secretary of State aware that that reply is rather disappointing, that at present there are protests in different parts of the country about specific closures, and that this programme of closures by regional boards contrasts strongly with his own statement last month stressing the social and economic value of cottage hospitals? How long will it be before we have a definite policy pronouncement?

Sir K. Joseph

It will be possibly a few months, but not more, before I am able to make a definitive statement on the character of community hospitals. But whatever that statement may contain, it will still be necessary to close a number of small hospitals, keeping going only those which justify the money concerned, bearing in mind the huge amount of extra money being spent on district general hospitals.

Mr. Boscawen

Would my right hon. Friend agree that there is a certain amount of social cost involved in keeping these smaller hospitals? Would he agree to paying that extra social cost where it is necessary for various reasons in a particular area?

Sir K. Joseph

Yes, I entirely agree with that. They perform a valuable function socially as well as medically. But we still shall not be able to afford to keep all of them.

Dr. Summer skill

Would the right hon. Gentleman agree that in view of the shortage of doctors, particularly for the large hospitals, it would be advisable to consider retaining small hospitals where general practitioners are willing and able to work? Surely this would alleviate the shortage of staff?

Sir K. Joseph

That is one of the factors which has encouraged the Government to change previous policy and to intend to maintain some of the hospitals as community hospitals.

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