Community hospitals offer high ‘social value’, study finds

A new study by the University of Birmingham has revealed how community hospitals play a vital function in their local communities, especially in isolated rural areas.

Researchers at the University of Birmingham’s Health Services Management Centre & Third Sector Research Centre, in collaboration with the Community Hospitals Association (CHA), looked into the role of community hospitals and how they engage with their local community.

The research, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), concluded that community hospitals represented a ‘significant community asset’ and evoked a strong sense of community ownership.

Researchers particularly praised their integrated approach to health and social care services and how embedded they are in their local communities.

The writers of the report said the findings illustrate how policy makers must focus on hospitals’ wider social value in addition to narrower financial concerns.

Jon Glasby, Professor of Health and Social Care and Head of School of Social Policy at the University of Birmingham said: ‘Our study shows how community hospitals are contributing to ‘community value’ through important functions within the communities in which they serve.

‘Their provision of local, accessible, integrated health and social care services has an important practical and symbolic significance, particularly in more isolated rural communities.

‘When difficult decisions are made about funding and future service provision for community hospitals therefore, policy makers need to take into account a broader notion of value, focusing equally on the “value” to patients and communities as on the money.’

There are currently 296 community hospitals with beds in England, mostly located in rural areas and housing fewer than 30 beds.

Looking at 267 of these hospitals, researchers found that community hospitals are largely led by GPs, in-house doctors and nurses and offer in-patient care for older patients as well a range of additional services.

Patients and carers interviewed for the study praised community hospitals’ holistic, personalised approach to care, identifying close relationships between patients and staff, strong connections with their local community and integrated services in one location.

Many community hospitals benefited from substantial support from their local communities in the form of volunteering, fundraising and wider community service.

However, the study found that community hospitals are under pressure to maintain these qualities as they wrestle with issues such as staff shortages, patients facing increasing levels of care and variations in the level of support they receive.

It is hoped that the results of the study will now be used to inform health care services across the country.

Dr Helen Tucker, President of the CHA, said: ‘The CHA views the study and the report as an important contribution to the planning and management of health care services, offering new knowledge and evidence on the role that community hospitals have to play across the whole health and care system, and also within their communities.’


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