Plans for a new generation of NHS community hospitals were unveiled yesterday with help from ten Birmingham residents.

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt offered a lifeline to threatened community hospitals in Shropshire and Worcestershire as she warned local health managers would have to justify closing them.

Birmingham MP Liam Byrne (Lab Hodge Hill), a Health Minister, helped to draw up yesterday's long-awaited Health White Paper, which includes plans to make GP surgeries available at night and weekends.

But Ministers involved the public more than before, and recruited ten city residents to discuss ideas.

They met once a month in Birmingham's Council House for sessions with officials and Ministers lasting up to six hours.

The panel were in London yesterday to hear Ms Hewitt speak in the House of Commons.

Maurice Whittingham, a clothes designer from King-standing, aged 39, said: "We were very cynical about it at first but it was surprising how much they listened to us."

For example, the panel complained that patients who explained their situation to one doctor or care worker often had to go through it all again with the next person.

Ministers responded by including plans for health services, social services and benefit agencies to share information, so that patients only have to explain once.

Other ideas which made it into yesterday's White Paper included Mr Whittingham's suggestion of more help for people caring for relatives, including the promise of more professional carers who can come into the home to help out on a short-term basis.

It followed his experiences caring for a member of his family.

Pensioner Elsie Millsun, aged 81, from Sutton, stressed the need for more help for the elderly. Jo Stableford, a police control room operator aged 32, from Sutton Coldfield, said: "We were different people coming from very different backgrounds, but we all had similar concerns."

Mr Byrne said: "This White Paper has been written in a very different way to usual.

"We were advised by a panel of ten Birmingham residents and what they said will affect the whole country."

In areas with a shortage of GPs, private providers could be brought in to make sure people's needs are met.

According to the Department of Health, Walsall, Wolverhampton and West Bromwich are among the 20 areas across the Britain with the fewest GPs compared to the number of patients.

The White Paper stated that over the next five years the Government will develop "a new generation of modern NHS community hospitals", as set out in its manifesto pledge.

Ms Hewitt warned health trusts were closing existing hospitals to save money.

She said: "If there are community facilities that are needed for the long-term they shouldn't be closed down due to short-term budgetary problems.

"We are asking Primary Care Trusts to reconsider their decision against the principles of this White Paper," she said.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Ludlow, Bridgnorth and Whitchurch last month to protest against the proposed closure of three community hospitals in Shropshire.