âThe Timesâ said:February 07, 2007
Promise of 50 community hospitals is dropped amid funding crisis
A pledge by ministers to build 50 community hospitals to spearhead the treatment of patients closer to home has been quietly shelved, The Times has learnt.
The plans for a new generation of small hospitals providing inpatient beds for the elderly and people with chronic conditions appears to have been dramatically watered down in the wake of ongoing concerns about funding in the NHS.
Up to 150 existing community hospitals are facing closure or loss of beds amid a swath of unpopular cuts to local health services in England.
Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, last year promised Â£750 million to build and regenerate community hospitals across the country. But ministers were accused yesterday of misleading patients by reneging on previous claims that the money would go specifically towards local hospital wards rather than day clinics.
Out of 50 new community hospitals pledged by ministers since the election, only one named hospital has so far been awarded funding, along with three other smaller clinics, MPs and campaigners say.
But Andy Burnham, the Health Minister, has denied that there was a target to build a set number of community hospitals.
Answering a parliamentary question tabled by Tony Baldry, the Conservative MP for Banbury, on how many of the 50 promised hospitals would be built, Mr Burnham said that there was âno target for the number of community hospitals we intend to fundâ.
âThe intention is to utilise the Â£750 million capital investment fund announced last July to fund the development and refurbishment of as many community hospitals and facilities as possible,â he said.
Ministers had refused six out of ten bids from local NHS Trusts hoping to build or renovate existing facilities, he added. The remaining schemes had been allocated funding of Â£44.5 million.
The Conservative Party accused Mr Burnham of evading a manifesto commitment yesterday, with less than 6 per cent of the promised Â£750 million having been allocated.
Mr Baldry said: âIt appears that amongst the multitude of Government targets, the one health target they have abandoned is community hospitals.â
Andrew Lansley, the Shadow Health Minister, said: âLabour promised 50 new community hospitals at the last election. Since then they have closed at least five and funded one.â
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said that the figure of 50 new hospitals had been âa crude estimateâ that should have referred to the number of schemes that local NHS trusts could bid to receive funding for.
Such bids would not necessarily lead to hospitals â as opposed to other services â being given funding, she said.