New head of UK health system says centralization of hospital services a mistake

The Ontario government has frequently looked to England in setting the course of health care reform.

From public-private partnerships to “commissioning” of private clinics to deliver public care, the model has also given us a preview of what mistakes are about to be repeated here.

This week as Georgina Bay General Hospital announced it would be shuttering the tiny hospital serving Penetenguishene, the new head of England’s National Health System is saying his country should stop closing “cottage-style” hospitals and instead treat patients in their own communities.

UK’s The Telegraph reports that Simon Stevens has recognized that British hospitals are now among the worst in Western Europe at caring for local populations because too many services have been stripped and centralized.

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

Stevens says the UK needs to abandon its fixation on “mass centralization.”

The new head of the UK NHS points to Sweden as having better links between health and social care.

Norman Lamb, the UK’s Minister of Health, has echoed Stevens’ comments, telling the media that small hospitals are a fundamental part of the NHS vision for the future.

Prior to taking up his new post, Stevens has served in health care roles on three continents as well as having been a former health advisor to former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The comments also come during the same week as the Ontario Hospital Association again repeated its demands for capacity planning and “aggressively increase” funding for community services.

While the impact to staff is expected to be minimal, the closing of the Penetanguishene hospital will mean the loss of another 11 complex continuing care beds from the health system. Community members will be expected to travel to Midland for care beginning next year. The site will be completely closed by 2016.

The OHA argues that it already has among the lowest per capita number of beds in the developed world. Without any capacity targets, the government is basically without a plan that would describe how many beds would be optimal for the system.

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