A cheeky private bill introduced recently aims to make it all but impossible to close community hospitals, reflecting the continuing domination of this topic in parliamentary health debates.

David Prior, MP for Norfolk North and son of Lord (Jim) Prior, outlined a bill 'to place restrictions on the closure of rural and community hospitals'.

His 'safeguards' included a presumption in favour of community hospitals remaining open, a 'clear burden of proof ' to show there is no longer 'patient or clinical need' for the unit and an independent panel to vet the final decision of health authority.

This would satisfy the public that 'the figures had not been cooked', and restore public confidence.

'It would not be sufficient justification to suggest a lack of short-term financial resource, ' Mr Prior said.

He added: 'Those measures would make it more difficult, but not impossible, to close community hospitals.'

His ten-minute rule bill has no chance of becoming a reality. But as he told the Commons: 'This bill puts down a marker to the government.'

Meanwhile, the Tories' call for a moratorium on hospital closures was an irony not lost on Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat health spokesman and MP for Oxford West and Abingdon.

He secured his own debate on community hospitals earlier this month.

Responding to a friendly intervention by Sean Woodward, Tory MP for Witney, and friend of the threatened Burford community hospital, he said acidly: 'I remind him that I am his hon. friend only in that I seek to preserve community services.

'Given the Conservative funding that undermined the health service before the current cuts, I could not describe myself as his friend.'