HC Deb 08 July 1998 vol 315 cc1069-70
Q2. Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon)

If he will make a statement on the Government's policy on community hospitals.

The Prime Minister

We certainly recognise the strength of feeling that people have for their local community hospitals. Community hospitals can play a role in the national health service, particularly offering a safe, clinically effective and efficient service for their areas. They must of course meet the same high quality standards and fairness and efficiency tests as any other hospital.

Mr. Burnett

I have just come from a meeting of many community hospital representatives, who are here because 27 community hospitals are either definitely to close or threatened with closure. How does the Prime Minister reconcile that fact with his oft-stated commitment to save the national health service?

The Prime Minister

The programmes of closure are proposed by local health authorities; there may be varying reasons for them. In certain areas, closures are proposed because health authorities genuinely believe in reorganising hospital provision. It is important to ensure that the reasons for any change in community hospital provision are genuinely concerned with the national health service and its interests. That does not mean that, if other provision is being made, every hospital closure must necessarily be wrong. That is not so in all 27 areas. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is to sit in on appeals against several of those cases. However, not every programme of reorganisation must be opposed.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that after the closure of Edgware hospital by the previous Government, this Government have been making great strides in restoring services to the new Edgware community hospital, and that the new waiting list money will go a long way in helping that process? Is he also aware that after the rundown of the hospital by the previous Government, one of the problems is getting over to local people that there are services at Edgware hospital, and that it is alive and vibrant? Will he use his best endeavours to ensure that we can get that message over to the local community?

The Prime Minister

I am sure that my hon. Friend has just done that, and I back him up entirely. Edgware hospital provides a valuable service to local residents and will continue to do so. It is, of course, under this Government that the largest hospital building programme in the NHS is being put through. After years of delay, we are getting that hospital building programme under way, and five are already starting up.