Health campaigners converge on Westminster
Campaigners from over 18 counties were joined by representatives from all three West Sussex hospital campaigns - Support the Princess Royal Hospital, Keep Worthing and Southlands Hospitals and Support St Richard's Hospital - at a rally in Westminster Hall on Tuesday 16 January.
The West Sussex delegates, who had come to the Houses of Parliament to show their opposition to the possible loss of Accident and Emergency and maternity services at two of the three local acute hospitals, included local councillors, consultants, and GPs.
The campaigners assembled outside the Houses of Parliament, before making their way into Westminster Hall - the oldest part of the Palace Westminster - to meet their MPs and to listen to speeches from medical professionals opposed to the Government's plans for reconfiguration.
Conservative MPs from West Sussex, including Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert, attended the event to show their support for the three local hospital campaigns, who have, so far, collected over 250,000 signatures and seen over 25,000 people take to the streets in opposition to the possible loss of services at their local hospitals.
Mr Herbert addressed the delegates, urging them to continue their fight against proposals which are being driven forward by the Health Secretary's desire to balance the NHS's books, rather than to meet patient needs.
He also criticised Health Ministers for not attending the rally despite having been invited several months ago.
Following the rally, campaigners delivered a message to Patricia Hewitt, calling on her "to listen to and act upon their concerns" and to "review all proposed acute hospital mergers and reconfigurations with the aim of maintaining local hospital services for common conditions that need emergency or inpatient care".
The message concluded: "The case for drastic downgrading is not supported by research or experience. Much work has to be done to find workable solutions to the problems affecting local health communities that are acceptable to patients and NHS staff."
Speaking after the rally, Nick Herbert said: "Well done to all our local hospital campaigners for giving up their time to come to Parliament and ensure that their concerns were put to MPs.
"It was sobering to see groups from right across the country, showing that the axe is falling on local hospitals nationwide. I thought it was poor that no health ministers were there to listen to the professionals and the public set out their objections to downgrading acute hospitals."