Analysis of the profile, characteristics, patient experience and community value of community hospitals: a multimethod study

Deborah Davidson, Angela Ellis Paine, Jon Glasby, Iestyn Williams, H Tucker, T Crilly, J Crilly, Nick Le Mesurier, John Mohan, Daiga Kamerade, D Seamark, J Marriott

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


BackgroundCommunity hospitals have been part of England’s health-care landscape since the mid-nineteenth century. Evidence on them has not kept pace with their development.
AimTo provide a comprehensive analysis of the profile, characteristics, patient experience and community value of community hospitals.
DesignA multimethod study with three phases. Phase 1 involved national mapping and the construction of a new database of community hospitals through data set reconciliation and verification. Phase 2 involved nine case studies, including interviews and focus groups with patients (n = 60), carers (n = 28), staff (n = 132), volunteers (n = 68), community stakeholders (n = 74) and managers and commissioners (n = 9). Phase 3 involved analysis of Charity Commission data on voluntary support.
SettingCommunity hospitals in England.
ResultsThe study identified 296 community hospitals with beds in England. Typically, the hospitals were small (< 30 beds), in rural communities, led by doctors/general practitioners (GPs) and nurses, without 24/7 on-site medical cover and provided step-down and step-up inpatient care, with an average length of stay of < 30 days and a variable range of intermediate care services. Key to patients’ and carers’ experiences of community hospitals was their closeness to ‘home’ through their physical location, environment and atmosphere and the relationships that they support; their provision of personalised, holistic care; and their role in supporting patients through difficult psychological transitions. Communities engage with and support their hospitals through giving time (average 24 volunteers), raising money (median voluntary income £15,632), providing services (voluntary and community groups) and giving voice (e.g. taking part in communication and consultation). This can contribute to hospital utilisation and sustainability, patient experience, staff morale and volunteer well-being. Engagement varies between and within communities and over time. Community hospitals are important community assets, representing direct and indirect value: instrumental (e.g. health care), economic (e.g. employment), human (e.g. skills development), social (e.g. networks), cultural (e.g. identity and belonging) and symbolic (e.g. vitality and security). Value varies depending on place and time.
LimitationsThere were limitations to the secondary data available for mapping community hospitals and tracking charitable funds and to the sample of case study respondents, which concentrated on people with a connection to the hospitals.
ConclusionsCommunity hospitals are diverse but are united by a set of common characteristics. Patients and carers experience community hospitals as qualitatively different from other settings. Their accounts highlight the importance of considering the functional, interpersonal, social and psychological dimensions of experience. Community hospitals are highly valued by their local communities, as demonstrated through their active involvement as volunteers and donors. Community hospitals enable the provision of local intermediate care services, delivered through an embedded, relational model of care, which generates deep feelings of reassurance. However, current developments may undermine this, including the withdrawal of GPs, shifts towards step-down care for non-local patients and changing configurations of services, providers and ownership.
Future workComparative studies of patient experience in different settings; longitudinal studies of community support and value; studies into the implications of changes in community hospital function, GP involvement, provider-mix and ownership; and international comparative studies could all be undertaken.
FundingThe National Institute for Health Research Health Services and Delivery Research programme.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherNational Institute for Health Research
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019


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