Health protest at Downing Street

HUNDREDS of “dismayed and frustrated" campaigners fighting a swathe of proposed health cuts across Suffolk have taken their protest to Tony Blair.Defiant civic leaders, staff and patients marched into Whitehall before handing in petitions signed by thousands to Downing Street and the Department of Health offices.

HUNDREDS of “dismayed and frustrated" campaigners fighting a swathe of proposed health cuts across Suffolk have taken their protest to Tony Blair.

Defiant civic leaders, staff and patients marched into Whitehall before handing in petitions signed by thousands to Downing Street and the Department of Health offices.

Campaigners in the capital told the EADT they would continue fighting plans to close hospitals in Felixstowe, Eye, Newmarket and Sudbury.

They were joined by compatriots from Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich - where hospitals are also facing the prospect of bed cuts, as outlined in Primary Care Trust (PCT) consultation documents.


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Unison officials - who organised yesterday's protest - have now called for an independent review and immediate withdrawal of the controversial plans to axe community hospitals and services.

Cheryl Godber, regional organiser for Unison, said: "I don't think the Government are fully aware and don't appreciate the seriousness of the issues.

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“Patricia Hewitt has just told NHS managers to sort out the problems, no matter what the consequences. She is using scare tactics to force them to balance the books.

"There is serious dismay and frustration over the proposed massacre of the NHS by these short-sighted and largely cash-driven proposals.”

Faced with the prospect of mass redundancies, staff said morale was shaken but they would remain defiant.

Alison Dutton, housekeeping supervisor at the West Suffolk Hospital, Bury St Edmunds, said: "We came today to represent all the hospitals in Suffolk. If the community hospitals are closed, it will create enormous pressure on those which are left.

"Morale at the West Suffolk is already very low but we will remain defiant and we will keep fighting."

One worker at Newmarket Hospital, who did not want to give her name, said: "We want to raise awareness for our plight. Our hospital has a fantastic reputation for patient care, it is one of the cleanest in the county and it is so unfortunate that it is facing closure.

"Staff morale has been turned around recently because our campaign has been so pro-active. We have to remain positive, there has been a really good turnout for the march and we have to convince the Primary Care Trust it will be patients who suffer. The hospital is so important for the people of Newmarket.”

Jacqui Purdy, ward sister at Walnuttree Hospital, said she hoped someone in London would take notice.

“We wanted to bring more attention to the issue by joining together and fighting against the health cuts,” she added.

"Staff morale has been up and down but we are all pulling together and naturally we won't let all these proposals affect the care of patients, which will always come first."

Campaigners made direct calls to Health Minister Patricia Hewitt to give under-pressure PCT bosses more time to pay back the multi-million pound deficit.

Hartismere Hospital supporter Marion Ravenhill, a parish councillor from Thorndon, said: "We want the PCT to have more time to get their funds in order.

“I think the decision to close hospitals is seen as an easy way out to save some money. But when the silver is gone, there is nothing left. These are very rash proposals and if they go through, I think they will be regretted in the years to come."

Peter Mellor, member of the Felixstowe Hospital Action Group, said: "This is a very important day for the whole campaign but there will be more. For anyone who is old, the Bartlett Hospital is a lifeline.”

Planned cutbacks to mental health care in the region were also a cause for concern and led to warnings about the future.

Anthony Dooley, chairman of the Suffolk Users Forum, said: "This is only the beginning, next year it is going to get even worse for people.”

The protest was also supported by members of both the House of Commons and House of Lords who vowed to continue lobbying for change.

Tim Yeo, south Suffolk MP, said: "The protest has brought a very good turnout and all credit must go to everyone involved. Especially the staff who are showing tremendous courage in going public with their concerns.”

Richard Spring, MP for West Suffolk, said: “This was a powerful demonstration. It proves not only how deep the financial crisis in our health services actually is, but also just how strongly my constituents and others feel about the situation.

“Those who work in the NHS and those who access the services are angry, upset and outraged that their hospitals and health facilities are being placed in such jeopardy. They are rightly furious that this Government has done nothing to address or acknowledge the situation, despite constant warnings and appeals to intervene.”

dave.gooderham@eadt.co.uk

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