Hospital campaigners and Epsom's MP have welcomed statements made by the new chief of the NHS which could signal victory in our campaign to save Epsom Hospital.

Simon Stevens, who took over the role last month, has warned that hospitals in the UK are becoming some of the worst in Europe in caring for local populations as too many services are being stripped down and centralised.

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, published today, he 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.

"The single most important question facing us is how do we best support older people?"

Mr Stevens said the UK must learn from countries such as Sweden, the US and the Netherlands, which have all developed ways to to boost community care around smaller hospitals to best meet the needs of their populations.

Chris Grayling MP said Mr Stevens' comments were "very welcome" in terms of the future of hospitals such as Epsom - which has been come under threat from centralisation, most recently from the now defunct Better Services Better Value (BSBV) review wanting to strip it of its maternity and A&E departments.

Thousands of people have signed the Epsom Guardian's petition to save the hospital and have campaigned to protect their hospital.

Mr Grayling said this afternoon: "I'm firmly of the view that smaller hospitals like Epsom play a really important part in the community.

"No one expects them to be able to do everything, and anyone who is seriously ill will want to access the best care at a specialist centre.

"But Epsom's maternity and A&E departments have a good record for both safety and quality of service, and I want to see the work that they do continue.

"So a greater focus on the role that hospitals like Epsom can play is very welcome."

This Is Local London:

A spokesman for South West London Collaborative Commissioning (SWLCC) - the new five year strategy for healthcare across South West London which was announced this week - said it supports local hospitals and has "not advocated hospital closures at any stage".

He said: "Simon Stevens' comments very much reflect our aspirations - we want to strengthen local services so people can be cared for closer to home, especially older people and those living with long term conditions.

"There has always been strong support for local hospitals among clinicians in south west London and we have not advocated hospital closures at any stage.

"Our strategy does not include site-specific options at this stage as we want to talk to local trusts about the best way to implement our plans and the role of each service in improving the quality of care in south west London."

Mr Stevens' comments were also welcomed by Epsom's health campaigners.

Jane Race said: "This absolutely does sound very promising.  I think it's quite exciting. 

"It's obviously what we have been campaigning for and Surrey Downs CCG also wants more facilities in the community for the elderly and that's because Epsom has a very large elderly population.  To have those facilities in the community and a local hospital is a good thing as it's just more accessible for the population."

Bess Harding MBE added: "It's very important to keep what's already on the Epsom site. 

"SWLCC should certainly listen to Mr Stevens' views and include Surrey Downs CCG within the SWLCC process.  The CCG seems to be doing a good job and should be allowed to continue."

Mr Stevens, who spent 11 years working for private healthcare firms in the US, South America and Europe, will deliver a major speech next week on his plans for the health service.