Hospital campaigners march on London

ACTION group campaigners last night spoke of their determination to fight controversial health cuts until the bitter end after marching in London for the second time in five months.

ACTION group campaigners last night spoke of their determination to fight controversial health cuts until the bitter end after marching in London for the second time in five months.

Hundreds of resolute patients and staff at Suffolk's threatened community hospitals joined a national protest march in a bid to highlight the uncertainty facing local healthcare.

In Sudbury, where residents are faced with losing both their community hospitals, campaigners said they felt they were beginning to make a difference.

Michael Mitchell, a porter at the threatened Walnuttree Hospital, was among scores of protestors from west Suffolk.

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He told the EADT: “I think the march was a big success as there were a lot of people there and I think we got our message across.

“I feel that the fact there are so many affected community hospitals throughout the country will add strength to our case.

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“We are now one voice and one opinion and we will keep fighting until the bitter end. I think we are starting to make a real difference and the right people are starting to take notice.”

West Suffolk MP Richard Spring was among the campaigners from Newmarket Hospital and West Suffolk Hospital, Bury St Edmunds, who took part in the rally, which was organised by Community Hospitals Acting Nationally Together (CHANT).

“When we are facing NHS deficits of nearly £1 billion across the country and £50 million in Suffolk, closing community hospitals is seen as an easy way to save money - this is extremely foolish and short-sighted,” said Mr Spring, a patron of the new national organisation.

The west Suffolk campaigners were joined by their counterparts from the east of the county aiming to prevent the closure of Hartismere Hospital at Eye and the Bartlet Hospital in Felixstowe.

Eric Havers, chairman of the Friends of Hartismere Hospital said the aim had been to keep the cause of community hospitals in the limelight.

“We want to highlight the problems it will bring throughout the country. There are 85 community hospitals under threat,” he said.

Michael Ninnmey, district councilor for Felixstowe west, said: “East Suffolk has already achieved the referral of the plans back to the secretary of state and we want to support those that haven't made this first step because if you don't get the alternative you are sunk in the water.”

It was the second time campaigners descended on London in five months - they protested outside the Department of Health and handing petitions containing thousands of signatures in November.

South Suffolk MP Tim Yeo, whose constituency covers the Walnuttree and St Leonard's hospitals, made a last ditch plea to save the hospitals at a meeting with Health Minister Patricia Hewitt last night with Lord Phillips of Sudbury and Lord Hart of Chilton.

He said: “We had a pretty forthright discussion and I took her through the history of the hospital, the enormous public condemnation, the damage and closure would do to the community and the fact that it has absolutely no public support.

“Her response was that she did not want to express her view until the PCT makes a decision on April 11. “So unfortunately she didn't give any indication for or against but she is now in possession of the arguments we have been working on for the last nine months.”

A decision on the health plans will be made by Suffolk West Primary Care Trust at a special meeting on April 11.

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