HC Deb 27 January 1998 vol 305 cc142-3
13. Mr. Breed

What are the Government's plans for developing community hospitals. [23427]

Mr. Dobson

We want to promote a health service close to home. In some places, that will involve community hospitals providing a wider range of services. However, they must have high standards and they must provide good value for money. Our White Paper proposals will make it possible for primary care groups to run such local hospitals if they decide that that is best for the patients in their area.

Mr. Breed

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Does he accept that there continues to be widespread concern throughout Cornwall about the health authority's proposal to close four community hospitals, which are a vital part of health care provision in a largely rural area? They provide good quality care that is accessible to a large proportion of the population.

Mr. Dobson

I understand the concerns of people in Cornwall about the health authority's proposals to close four community hospitals. At one point, the health authority, with the support of the Liberal Democrats, said that the problem was caused by the Government keeping the authority short of funds. In an outburst of honesty, the chief executive then admitted on television that he would like to close the hospitals whatever the level of funding. I cannot issue any pronunciamento on the future of those hospitals. If the community health council decides to object, the decision will be a matter for me. I have made it clear that we would like to promote community hospitals because we want people throughout the country, not just in Cornwall, to be able to turn to an efficient, effective, high-quality health service that is close to home. We do not want people to have to travel vast distances for relatively straightforward treatment.

Mr. McNulty

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to correct some misinformation given out by the Conservative Front-Benchers during this Question Time? Far from being in doubt, the future of Edgware hospital is secure. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the 120-plus organisations and individuals who took part in the Edgware review, which has been sanctioned by the Department of Health, deserve our congratulations? Edgware will be a model community hospital for urban areas and the community will stay involved while the plans are being implemented.

Mr. Dobson

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I pay tribute to all those involved locally and in the Department, including the 40th birthday boy, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, who has contributed to sorting the issue out. A trail-blazing effort has been made in Edgware to create a community hospital in an urban area providing first-class services that local people want.

Mr. Brazier

Does the Secretary of State agree that the views of the community, particularly those of the primary carers—the general practitioners—should play a particularly important role in his decision on the future of the Kent and Canterbury acute hospital and the Whitstable and Tankerton community hospital? Does he further agree that the community has every reason to have sent me 630 letters already, which I have sent on to him, on the future of the two hospitals?

Mr. Dobson

I shall bear all representations in mind, but there are a few crocodile tears from Conservative Members. Most of the closure proposals come from boards dominated by chairmen and non-executive members appointed by the previous Government. I am glad that some of them are no longer there.