Community hospitals given extra £750m

The government has announced £750 million extra funding for community hospitals.

Health secretary Patricia Hewitt today said the money would go towards facilities offering patients more blood tests, x-rays and minor operations outside of large hospitals.

“Community hospitals have for too long been viewed as the poor relation of larger hospitals. This stops today. We will invest £750 million over the next five years in the development of a new generation of community hospitals,” said Ms Hewitt.

However, opposition parties have questioned the focus on new hospitals and facilities when existing ones are struggling.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Steve Webb said: “This money comes too late for dozens of community hospitals, which are set to close because of the financial crisis in the NHS brought about by the government.”

He added: “This centralised system only pays lip service to local opinions, as the government will still hold all the purse-strings. The health secretary must abandon her control freak tendencies and start trusting local communities to set their own priorities in health care.”

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: “This announcement will be too late for the dozens of community hospitals that have already closed across the country.”

But today’s government announcement also contained new guidance in an effort to prevent the NHS “rushing through unnecessary closures of community hospitals”.

Ms Hewitt said: “Our guidance will give patients more choice and a louder voice when it comes to NHS community services. We want to ensure local people are in control of the services they receive.

“We expect the NHS to consult local communities when developing their plans for care outside large hospitals. Options for change must be developed with people and not for them.”