The Department of Health wants acute and primary care trusts to use a series of 'marketing tactics' in consulting local populations on the future of community hospitals.

The Department of Health wants acute and primary care trusts to use a series of 'marketing tactics' in consulting local populations on the future of community hospitals.

Health secretary Patricia Hewitt was today due to unveil the government's new vision for community hospitals which will commit the NHS to proving it has listened to 'patient power' when making changes to community services, including small cottage hospitals.

She said£750m would be made available over five years to build new community hospitals and refurbish existing ones. But the extra cash would only be made available if trusts could prove that the new facilities had the 'backing of local people'.

In order to gauge fully public opinion, trusts will be urged to abandon 'poorly attended town hall meetings' in favour of consumer surveys and face-to-face events with 'local people randomly invited from the electoral register'. This 'deliberative approach' was used by the DoH during consultation for the healthcare outside hospitals white paper.

The DoH guidance will tell the NHS to use marketing techniques commonly used to check, for example, which car people plan to buy or how much they spend on their phone bill.

Ms Hewitt wants to use patient power to prevent 'unnecessary closure of much-loved community hospitals' under payment by results. The government is publishing the consultation guidance to find out whether local populations want local community hospitals to be refurbished or replaced.

She said: 'Our guidance will give patients more choice and a louder voice when it comes to NHS community services. We want to ensure local people are in control of the services they receive'.

The DoH said private companies or public-private partnerships would be encouraged to invest capital into community services, and that the NHS would be encouraged to form joint ventures with the charitable and not-for-profit sectors to develop community services.

PCTs with 'advanced plans' for new community facilities that expect to start building this financial year need to submit proposals to strategic health authorities by 30 September. For other schemes set to start next year, PCT proposals should reach SHAs by the end of the year.