National day of health protests

FRESH protests may be held in Suffolk against the proposed closure of the county's community hospitals as part of a countrywide day of action.Campaigners are talking to leaders of a new national group formed to fight for threatened community hospitals about possible marches or meetings to keep the issue in the spotlight.

FRESH protests may be held in Suffolk against the proposed closure of the county's community hospitals as part of a countrywide day of action.

Campaigners are talking to leaders of a new national group formed to fight for threatened community hospitals about possible marches or meetings to keep the issue in the spotlight.

CHANT - Community Hospitals Acting Nationally Together - has been formed to highlight the plight of more than 80 hospitals facing closure or big cuts in services because of cash problems.

Roy Gray, chairman of Save Our Felixstowe Hospitals action group, said: “We are working closely with CHANT, as are campaigners from all over the country, and it's great to now have a national body giving us a voice as it is such a big issue.

“We are still fighting hard for the Bartlet and will keep on doing so, but as much pressure needs to be put on the government as possible.”

Mr Gray will be attending a meeting of CHANT in London on Monday to hear how the national campaign is going.

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He said: “One idea which is being looked at is a national day of protest in which marches or rallies or other events would be held in each town in the country where there is a hospital under threat.

“We would certainly be interested in joining that - as I am sure campaign groups in Aldeburgh, Newmarket and Sudbury would be, too.”

Eric Havers, chairman of the Friends of Hartismere Hospital, said: “I will be going down to the meeting in London.

“There's definitely strength in numbers and hopefully we will be able to plan some sort of way forward.”

The meeting at Westminster will be addressed by CHANT leaders, and also MPs Boris Johnson and Graham Stuart. It will include briefings on possible legal challenges to closure decisions, and formation of an action plan.

Suffolk East Primary Care Trust will decide later this month whether to close the Bartlet.

It has been analysing hundreds of comments from residents and organisations gathered from its consultation process.

A spokesman for CHANT said its aims included being an umbrella organisation, bringing together local groups from across the country who are campaigning for their community hospitals, and co-ordinating national events and lobbying of MPs and other decision-makers.

The news comes on the day that Tim Yeo, south Suffolk MP, has launched a bitter attack on health trusts for failing to disclose information about health services in Sudbury under the Freedom of Information Act.

The MP, who is campaigning against the closure of Sudbury's Walnuttree Hospital and St Leonard's Hospital, said: “The degree of public trust in the NHS is at an all-time low in West Suffolk.”

What do you think of plans to close community hospitals? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

Background panel:

DESPITE a huge number of protests from the public, it would be a major surprise if health officials took any notice and changed their minds over closing the Bartlet Hospital.

Millions of pounds in debt, the Primary Care Trust has to pay back what it owes and put itself back on a firm financial footing.

It believes the way forward is to discharge people from hospital quicker - looking after them at home with travelling teams of carers.

The Evening Star, the Save Our Felixstowe Hospitals action group and Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer have spearheaded the campaign to save the convalescent and rehabilitation unit.

The campaign has included a series of large meetings, and a protest march through Felixstowe ending with supporters symbolically surrounding the Bartlet and linking hands.

A coachload also visited Westminster to hand over a 15,000-signature petition to the Department of Health and protest in Whitehall opposite Downing Street.

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