The government should “go further” in recognising the central role of community hospitals in providing local, cost-effective healthcare, a Tory backbencher has said.

Dover MP Charlie Elphicke argued that more needed to be done to bring community hospitals “closer to the heart” of NHS policy.

His comments during a Westminster Hall debate were endorsed by other Tory MPs, including former defence secretary Dr Liam Fox who said community hospitals were what the public “undoubtedly wants”.

Having community care beds, Mr Elphicke said, reduced the pressure of bed blocking on acute hospitals and re-admissions.

They also helped create a home-like environment well suited to older people, particularly those suffering from dementia who lived independently.

He said: “The purpose of this debate is to make the case for the government to put the community back into community hospitals, to recognise they should have a central role in coping with people living longer, are important providers of recovery beds that speed rehabilitation, recovery and continue independent living, particularly for older people.

“I was inspired to seek this debate because people in my own community care deeply about the local community hospitals in Dover and in Deal.

“Years of centralisation have taken their toll, my constituents want to see more locally based health services provided by their local hospitals.”

Community hospitals, he added, offered a good basis for respite, palliative and intermediate care close to home.

He said: “There are some 400 local and community hospitals up and down the land. Many have similar stories, stories of battling to defend their hospitals and hospital services against the NHS leviathan and the forces of centralisation.

“There is a sense that the tide has begun to turn, after all a new hospital is being built at Dover, health chiefs have pledged to secure the future for Deal hospital, there has been a move towards a fairer share of healthcare for rural and semi-rural communities far from acute hospitals and we have come a long way.

“Today I am making the case that we should go further and ask what more can we do to embrace community hospitals and bring them closer to the heart of the NHS.”

Mr Elphicke spoke of the importance of communities having a greater say in running their local community hospitals and for a stronger link between GPs and community hospitals. Community hospitals he added could be hubs for the integration of social care.

He added: “They are more cost effective when compared to acute hospitals with post acute recovery, so it’s hard to see why we ever went down the route of centralisation because it cost us more money and gave us less effective care and the move back to putting the community hospital back at the heart of things is going to be more cost effective, give better care and give better health outcomes.”

Tory John Whittingdale (Maldon) underlined the importance of community hospitals in providing intimate care for patients and their proximity to relatives, arguing they were “real strengths” contributing to faster recovery times.

Dr Fox added that “we cannot put a price on that social element”. Respite care beds in community hospitals were “utterly invaluable” in giving carers breaks, he said.