HEALTH campaigners in East Lancashire have been given a boost after the new boss of NHS England said ‘local services’ should be expanded.

Chief executive Simon Stevens, who began the role last month, said the health service must end ‘mass centralisation’ and treat more people in their own communities instead.

This differs from the view of his predessesor, Sir David Nicholson, who recently called for a radical reorganisation of the NHS with services centralised on a smaller number of hospital sites.

Mr Stevens’ comments have sparked interest in East Lancashire, where patients and campaigners are determined to keep services at the Royal Blackburn and Burnley General hospitals, as well as at smaller community facilities in Accrington, Pendle and Clitheroe.

Pendle MP Andrew Stephenson, a Conservative, said: “This is long overdue recognition of the vital role of small community hospitals. Certain things, such as specialist stroke and trauma care, do need to be centralised, so that surgeons are dealing with a significant volume of cases to maintain their skills, but it’s really important to have good local services to treat the majority of patients.”

However, Hyndburn MP Graham Jones, Labour, suspected Mr Stevens’ comments were ‘politically motivated’.

He added: “People want to hear that local hospitals are staying open, but it should be about how people can receive the best medical care possible - that’s the only thing that matters.

“We will still need big specialist hospitals, with smaller facilities like Accrington Victoria providing more routine care.”

Mr Stevens 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 also warned the complex care systems outside of hospitals must change and investment was needed in community services for the elderly to stop spiralling numbers ending up in hospital.