By Sarah Jones
Southern Daily Echo – 13 September 2005
New Forest: Generations unite to send strongest possible message to the bureaucrats that people want to preserve community hospitals
"BURY the PCT Not Our Hospitals"
The message was loud and clear when protestors came together in their thousands to speak with one voice last night. The mass demonstration reflected the huge public outcry over controversial plans to close cottage hospitals across the New Forest and Romsey.
A symbolic funeral parade through the streets of Lyndhurst featured five sombre coffins carried to represent each of the threatened facilities. Led by the haunting strains of pipers the march cut a poignant warning of the bleak future forecasted by the campaigners if the plans are realised.
The procession of about 500 marchers set off from the Fenwick one of the hospitals facing the axe being wielded by cash-strapped health bosses at New Forest Primary Care Trust. The mood was determined as young and old alike united to show their disgust at plans to close beds in a desperate attempt to claw back money amidst a multi-million pound cash crisis.
Waving placards and banners the protestors hammered home their support for the campaign to save the community hospitals backed by the Daily Echo. They are steadfastly opposed to the proposals to shut some or all of the 106 beds at hospitals in Lyndhurst, Hythe, Milford-on-Sea, Fordingbridge and Romsey.
Because once they are gone they will be lost forever.
Police had imposed a limit on the number of marchers of 200 but the number swelled to more than double the recommended amount. They swarmed without incident down the village's High Street to applause before the procession joined up with an open-air rally.
Local landmark Bolton's Bench normally the terrain of dogwalkers and donkeys became awash with a sea of around 2 000 people on the late-summer's evening. Starting about ten minutes ahead of schedule a stream of speakers addressed the crowd on the loathed proposals to transfer care into the community.
Saints hero and Daily Echo columnist Lawrie McMenemy who lives in the Romsey area was one of the first to take to the mike.
"In football you get some people who say 'we have got the books right now the shop's selling well the pies are selling well oh by the way the team is getting relegated' and this is the same thing."
New Forest East MP Julian Lewis spearheaded the Save Our Community Hospitals campaign. Estimating the numbers present Dr Lewis told the crowd:
"If it is a couple of thousand it is a couple of thousand more than would turn out to support the proposals of the PCT."
In a display of unity across the political spectrum, Tory Dr Lewis masterminded the campaign along with fellow Conservative Desmond Swayne, New Forest West's MP, and Liberal Democrat Sandra Gidley MP for Romsey. Making her speech Mrs Gidley declared:
"We will leave no stone unturned. We will harass the ministers as they never been harassed before and we will do everything we can to keep these community hospitals open."
Acting as master of ceremonies Mr Swayne said:
"The PCT say this is not about cuts. It is about a new model of working. If you believe that you deserve to have your community hospital closed!"
If anyone knows about local healthcare provision it is retired Waterside MP Dr David Markby. He made his own appeal to health bosses when he addressed the masses to widespread approval from the audience.
"As a PCT, for goodness sake don't go against the public "
"Vote with us and resign."
A spokesman for the PCT said:
"We do appreciate that community hospitals have a very special place in their communities.
"No decision has been made about the future of any of the community inpatient beds and our current consultation is designed to involve local people in the development of proposals for expanded and enhanced community services.
"We acknowledge that last night's rally gave local people an opportunity to make their views known about the future of community hospitals but we did not feel it was appropriate for any PCT staff to attend.
"Instead we have written to the three local MPs backing the rally and offered to meet with them to hear the concerns local people raised at the rally.
"We are also running a series of discussion events during September designed to ensure that as many people as possible have the chance to hear about the proposals ask questions raise concerns and have their say."