NHS chief moots small hospitals

NHS hospitals in England are heading for a major revamp as the new boss says smaller community hospitals should play a bigger role especially in the care of older patients.

Simon_StevensSimon Stevens, the new chief of the NHS Hospitals in England, told The Daily Telegraph there needed to be new models of care built around smaller local hospitals. The NHS said he was not suggesting the return of 50s-style cottage hospitals.

In recent years the health service has emphasised the benefits of centralised services. This has paid dividends in areas such as stroke care and major trauma where significant benefits have been gained by concentrating specialist care. But this has raised questions about the future of the many smaller district general hospitals across the NHS.

Mr Stevens, a former adviser on health to Tony Blair, will outline his vision for the NHS in a major speech at the NHS Confederation conference in Liverpool on Wednesday. He took up the post of chief executive of the NHS in England after 11 years working for private health care firms in Europe, the US and South America.

In the interview in the paper, Mr Stevens said they should play an important part in providing care, especially for the growing number of older patents who could be treated closer to home.

He said: “A number of other countries have found it possible to run viable local hospitals serving smaller communities than sometimes we think are sustainable in the NHS.

“Most of western Europe has hospitals which are able to serve their local communities, without everything having to be centralised.”

He said elderly patients were increasingly ending up in hospital unnecessarily because they had not been given care which could have kept them at home.

Mr Stevens also told the Telegraph:

  • The NHS needed to abandon a fixation with “mass centralisation” and instead invest in community services to care for the elderly
  • Waiting targets introduced by Labour became “an impediment to care” in too many cases
  • The European Working Time Directive damaged health care in the NHS, making it harder to keep small hospitals open
  • Businesses should financially reward employees for losing weight and adopting healthy lifestyles

An NHS England source said Mr Stevens was saying that smaller hospitals had a part to play in shifting services into the community, not that there would be no closures of local hospitals in the future.

Helen Tucker, vice president of the Community Hospitals Association, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Mr Stevens’ comments were “great news”, sending a “good, strong message that small is beautiful”.

A “balance is needed” with centralised specialist hospitals, she said, but smaller institutions were “the hospitals that local communities really value,” she said.Doctor Patient 2