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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 July 2006, 12:23 GMT 13:23 UK
Doubts over NHS community plans
Consultation
Several community hospitals have already closed
Concerns have been raised about the government's plan to reinvigorate NHS community services in England.

Some 750m is being made available to NHS trusts over the next five years to help move care out of hospitals.

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt said she hoped the money could be used to fund new cottage hospitals, mobile scanning units and home cancer therapy.

But campaigners said the drive is being undermined by a spate of community hospital closures.

A white paper, published in January, promised resources would be shifted away from acute hospitals to help provide more care in the community.

The government talks about delivering more care in the community but the infrastructure is not in place
Andrew Lansley, shadow health secretary

The 750m is part of this transfer and will be made available for primary care trusts to bid for.

But the cross-party campaign group, Community Hospitals Acting Nationally Together (Chant), said several community hospitals have already closed this year, while another 70 of the 300 in England are under threat because of the financial problems facing the NHS.

Chant chairman Graham Stuart, a Tory MP, said the money may come to late for many services.

"We don't need more warm words, we need action but I am not sure we will get it.

"Hospitals have continued to close despite the government's promises earlier this year."

Dr Gill Morgan, chief executive of the NHS Confederation which represents the majority of NHS organisations, said: "Patients needs are changing and the NHS must adapt to meet those needs - whether this be X-ray and surgical procedures being undertaken locally or chemotherapy and blood testing in people's homes.

"These new types of services will not necessarily require more hospital beds.

"We need to move away from a fixation with bricks and mortar and start to think more creatively about how we provide services for large numbers of patients in more convenient community settings."

New generation

Ms Hewitt said she wants to see a new generation of community services built including multi-purpose health centres providing minor injury care, blood testing and ultrasound scanning as well as new and redeveloped community hospitals.

She said smaller-scale projects such as medical teams providing chemotherapy at home and mobile MRI scanners could also be funded.

"With the changes in medical technology and practice, we can now do so much more treatment and care for people much closer to home, sometimes in their own homes."

She said as well as offering better value for money, community care may enable patients to receive treatment more quickly.

But Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "The government talks about delivering more care in the community but the infrastructure is not in place.

"This announcement will be too late for the dozens of community hospitals that have already closed across the country."

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Steve Webb said: "When community hospitals close, the government blames the local health service, but when new hospitals are announced the government is quick to take the credit."




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See inside a community hospital in London



SEE ALSO
Move to push NHS into community
30 Jan 06 |  Health
Community hospitals 'face cuts'
15 Nov 05 |  Health

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