Baby unit protest march rallying cry

HARWICH residents are being urged to come out in force this weekend to march through the streets in protest at the loss of their baby unit.Campaigners fighting to reopen the maternity unit at Harwich Hospital are staging the march on Saturday.

By Sharon Asplin

HARWICH residents are being urged to come out in force this weekend to march through the streets in protest at the loss of their baby unit.

Campaigners fighting to reopen the maternity unit at Harwich Hospital are staging the march on Saturday. It will culminate in a rally at the hospital later that afternoon.

Essex Rivers Healthcare NHS Trust sparked outrage in Harwich when it decided to move midwives from the town's hospital to cover for staff shortages at Colchester General Hospital.


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The move - pledged as a temporary measure until March 1, 2004 – means pregnant women cannot give birth at Harwich Hospital's maternity unit and have to travel 20 miles to have their babies in Colchester.

However, local staff and residents fear the decision will become permanent – an allegation the trust strongly denies.

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Steve Gunnell, a committee member of the Hands Off Our Hospital campaign which is behind Saturday's protest, said: "I would urge anyone concerned about the maternity unit to come out and support us. We have been out petitioning in the town and on one Saturday alone we received 600 signatures. Many people supporting us were holidaymakers who said they would come back again this weekend, so our fight has gone nationwide.

"We are expecting a good groundswell of support. We are fighting for something which is a right and something which we need. It is not something for the sake of it – it is something we feel passionate about and we must make them [the health trust] see and listen.

"This is no laughing matter and we will not stop protesting until the baby unit is reopened."

On Monday trust chief executive Mike Pollard will update trust staff at a board meeting and tell them the challenge is to deliver the pledge to reopen the unit in March.

In a report to be presented, he describes the anger felt in 1997 when it was proposed to close the maternity unit.

He said: "It led to a venting of public outrage on the part of the people of Harwich which was almost revolutionary in tone. Local people remember this very much – and I have been forcibly reminded of this many times over the last few days or so."

Last month, the East Anglian Daily Times launched a Save Our Baby Unit campaign to ensure the town keeps its threatened maternity ward.

Since the closure, a number of protests have been staged and the EADT campaign has been backed by the entire team of midwives and support staff, as well as hundreds of concerned members of the public.

n On Saturday the protest begins at noon in the mayor's garden opposite Harwich Police Station. After a number of speeches by campaigners, protestors will march through the town, arriving at the hospital for a rally between 1pm and 1.30pm. More speakers will take the platform and the event is expected to end mid afternoon.

A public meeting is also planned for mid October.

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