Hewitt's snub to health protestors

JUST 20 minutes - that is all the time Secretary of State Patricia Hewitt would sacrifice for the people of Suffolk to hear how our health service is on the brink of collapse.

JUST 20 minutes - that is all the time Secretary of State Patricia Hewitt would sacrifice for the people of Suffolk to hear how our health service is on the brink of collapse.

At a protest by Suffolk people outside the houses of parliament yesterday, Mrs Hewitt gave Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer just a few minutes to persuade her to intervene to stop “Draconian” measures to deal with the Primary Care Trust's crippling debts of £74million.

She would not even leave her room to accept the Evening Star's 16,000-signature petition from campaigners.

Mrs Hewitt has also, so far, refused to talk to the Evening Star about the situation - the biggest health changes facing people in Suffolk for decades - and so has Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Officials said she had a full timetable of meetings with MPs and civil servants.

And while the Prime Minister has still to even reply to the Star's request for an interview about the cuts, he found time to go on BBC 1's Saturday programme Football Focus to talk about his love of the beautiful game.

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Campaigners could be heartened by some words from Mr Blair as he spoke about his anti-terror bill just before it went to the vote - saying: “It's better to lose and be right than it is to win and be wrong.”

Yesterday, Mr Gummer, who emerged from the meeting in a room just off Westminster Hall exactly 20 minutes after going in, urged Ms Hewitt to give more time for the debt situation to be sorted out and warned that if not then Suffolk's health services would collapse

Afterwards, he said the meeting went “pretty much as expected” but there were no assurances and no concessions.

But he vowed not to give up and said the fight must go on.

He said: “The minister listened to what I had to say and I told her very forcefully the situation, and made all the points that I wanted to on behalf of the people of Suffolk and especially those in my constituency.

“We have to keep on trying to make the government see what is happening to the health service.

“Either they give more time or money, or both, to the PCTs in Suffolk or the NHS will in effect collapse.

“If that happens then I am afraid the political fall-out and the row will be much bigger than they ever thought possible. The situation is totally and utterly unfair.”

Save Our Hospitals Felixstowe action group chairman Roy Gray said: “I cannot believe Mr Gummer was only given 20 minutes - how can that be adequate for such a big issue? It defies belief. It's is just awful.”

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