Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Stafford for a march against plans to downgrade services at the town’s hospital in a turnout hailed as ‘fantastic’ by organisers.
The March for Children event was arranged in opposition to cuts to maternity, paediatrics and critical care which have been proposed by trust special administrators appointed to decide the future of Stafford Hospital.
Children of all ages joined their parents for the second hospital march, just days before the consultation into the plans to strip services ends.
It came after 50,000 poured onto the streets in April. Campaigners carried placards and banners pleading to the Government to allow the hospital to keep all services.
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Under the proposals drawn up by administrators, Stafford Hospital faces losing its maternity unit and paediatric inpatient care department while critical care would also be downgraded.
The Support Stafford Hospital group targeted Saturday’s march to highlight the importance of retaining maternity and paediatrics.
Local dignitaries who attended included The Bishop of Stafford, Rev Geoff Annas, Stafford MP Jeremy Lefroy and borough council leader Mike Heenan.
They joined the one mile trek up to the hospital in Weston Road and spoke to the thousands who had gathered in fields surrounding the site.
Rev Annas told the crowds: “You have yet again done Stafford proud. The whole community has come together.
“We have got to go that final bit. We are saying that this is a county town with lots of people living here.
“It needs its maternity services. It needs its paediatric services. It needs its critical care as well.
“Of course we want all hospitals in this area to work closely together but we need these services here.”
Mr Lefroy urged people to keep battling hard to ensure the hospital retains all its services.
He said: “This is not just about Stafford. The reason we are here today is because it’s vital that maternity, paediatrics and critical care continues here in Stafford. Not just for Stafford, but for the people of Cannock, Rugeley, and Penkridge.
“By keeping these services here we are taking the pressure off other hospitals that are cracking at the seams.
“It’s not a done deal. We have managed to retain the A&E. Someone has listened and I believe someone will listen today.
“We are asking the TSAs and the government, no demanding, that they listen again to our reasonable arguments.”
Among the members of public on the march was landscape gardener Jean Dawson, who held a placard with a photograph of her newborn granddaughter on it. Her daughter Claire Lavelle gave birth to baby Alice at Stafford Hospital on July 12 this year.
The 55-year-old said: “It all happened so quickly. Alice was born at about 2.40am. If she had to go up to Stoke she could have had the baby on the way. There are often problems on the M6.
“The midwives at Stafford were wonderful. They asked Claire if she wanted to stay an extra night and she did.”
The formal consultation period into Alan Bloom and Professor Mascie-Taylor’s draft recommendations finishes tomorrow.
They then have 15 working days to send their final report off to health watchdog Monitor. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt will then have the final say on what happens to the hospital.
Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust chief executive Maggie Oldham said: “I would like to thank the organisers who have invested a great deal of time, energy and resources into making the march a happy and safe occasion.
“Also I would like to say a big thank you to all of the children and to everyone else who has taken part. It means a great deal to staff to witness the strength of local feeling and the widespread support for the hospital.”