I would like to start by thanking my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce for bringing forward this incredibly important matter for debate, and for articulating so beautifully the great value of the Congleton War Memorial Hospital to her constituency. I would also like to reiterate the important role that community hospitals play in local areas. She could not have articulated those great values more beautifully this evening.
Community hospitals provide vital in-patient care for people who need it most. As a whole, patients should be supported to recover in the most appropriate setting, which is quite often back in the heart of their local community and closer to home. However, community hospitals do far more than just provide hospital beds. They also offer a range of out-patient services that provide much-needed support to patients, including physical therapy, lab tests, X-rays and counselling. They can also contain minor injuries units, which, as we have heard, can have people in and out and back to work or back home much more quickly. They also offer a welcome local alternative to the big emergency facilities at an acute hospital that is many miles away. To its credit, Congleton Hospital already does all this for its local community and for local people. It is these services, this outreach and these minor injuries units that place these institutions firmly at the heart of their local communities.
The Government are absolutely committed to ensuring that patients have access to care that is as close as possible to where they live. This is very evident in the NHS long-term plan, which focuses on shifting to a new way of delivering care, with services in the community at the very forefront of planning. Community hospitals represent much more than just medical services. Many, such as Congleton Hospital and my own, the Gosport War Memorial Hospital, were originally built through the donations of local people to address local need many decades ago. It is this history, along with the important services that they provide, that make community hospitals the object of affection and appreciation in local communities. It is therefore important that any planning decisions about these much-loved institutions must be taken locally, and with enormous care and the utmost sensitivity. Fundamentally, this is about developing sustainable health and care services in the community. We care deeply about ensuring that residents in all areas can access excellent health and care services, both now and in the future.