Marchers send warning to health chiefs

A HUGE show of people power sent a stern message to health chiefs as more than 100 campaigners protested at the temporary closure of a maternity unit.Nearly 150 people took to the streets of Harwich for a two-hour rally objecting to the decision to close the town's baby unit until next March.

By Juliette Maxam

A HUGE show of people power sent a stern message to health chiefs as more than 100 campaigners protested at the temporary closure of a maternity unit.

Nearly 150 people took to the streets of Harwich for a two-hour rally objecting to the decision to close the town's baby unit until next March.

And there was a warning that further action is planned – the next step being to either go to Parliament or possibly even hold a demonstration on the A120.


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Campaign organiser Steve Gunnell, whose four children were all born at Harwich Hospital, said he was pleased with how Saturday's march went.

He added: "If we do another march, on the A120, we could bring it to a standstill. They want to build a new port (in Harwich); they have got to have a hospital with a maternity unit."

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Mr Gunnell said: "I'm doing this for the town. My wife's due in January with my fifth baby. We'd like it to be born in Harwich."

Bosses at Essex Rivers Healthcare Trust have shut Harwich Hospital maternity unit until March 1 next year so that midwives can cover staff shortages at Colchester General Hospital.

Until next Spring any pregnant woman in the Harwich district will have to travel 20 miles to Colchester to have her baby.

The closure has sparked outrage among local residents – who only four years ago fought a bitter battle to prevent the unit being permanently shut down.

Some local residents fear the current closure is the end of the unit and do not believe a maternity ward will be included in the brand new hospital planned for the town – although the Trust has assured them it is.

The EADT is behind the current campaign to save the baby unit, which has also received the full backing of the Harwich midwives.

Mr Henderson, MP for Harwich, said: "I'm very grateful to the mothers, grandparents and local residents who marched in order to show their support for Harwich's maternity unit."

But he stressed the issue had resulted from midwife recruitment problems rather than funding shortages – which had been suggested, he said, by some community and political groups.

Essex Rivers chief executive Mike Pollard has held a meeting with Mr Henderson and promised to try to re-open the unit within three months.

The Trust has launched a recruitment drive to boost numbers of midwives and the deadline for applications is this Friday .

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