MORE than 600 protestors marched through the streets in a last-gasp bid to try and save the accident and emergency department at Hartlepool hospital.
Health chiefs announced earlier this month that the A&E department at the University Hospital of Hartlepool was to close next Tuesday after an independent review deemed the facility to be “unfit for purpose”.
They have insisted last night’s protest won’t change plans.
SEE FRIDAY’S MAIL FOR MORE REACTION FROM THE MARCH
But with the axe just days away, campaigners ranging from young children up to elderly residents in wheelchairs were out in force last night with a crowd in excess of 600 marching from the Middleton Grange Shopping Centre ramp off York Road around the the war memorial opposite Hartlepool Civic Centre, via the One Life Centre where some hospital services have already been transferred to.
As the crowd filed past the £20m centre in Park Road, many booed and jeered before chanting “Our A&E, it’s good enough for me”.
The event was organised by 74-year-old Jean Basey, while Save Our Hospital campaigner Keith Fisher addressed the crowd from the steps near to the war memorial.
Officers from Hartlepool police closed off parts of York Road, Park Road and Stockton Street to allow the march to take place. A Cleveland Police spokesman said: “The march went as expected, with around 600 in attendance. There were no reports of any disorder.”
Mr Fisher, from Formby Close, Hartlepool, said: “I have never given up on anything, even when I’m 10-0 down, but I honestly believe that the removal of A&E will be the death knell for our hospital.
“We were warned many years ago that the hospital would be taken apart piece by piece – and A&E is a very big piece.
“But with six days to go, I believe there is still time for something to be done. The quangos who make the decisions don’t have to answer to us. But those who we vote to represent us as our councillors do and now is the time to start knocking on the doors and demanding something is done.
“In six days, my God created all of this – and still had time for a day off.
“In my opinion, there is no limit to what can be done in six days, and I am urging people now to speak to the people who represent them.
“I don’t blame the council for the closure. But I blame them for being incapable of stopping it.”
Mr Fisher, who used his speech to pay special tribute to organiser Mrs Basey, added: “If someone had offered me 600 people this morning, I would have taken it.
“I am proud to stand in front of these people, I hope I have motivated them to join me in speaking to the right people.”
Mrs Basey said: “When I speak to people outside of Hartlepool, they can’t believe a town the size of this one may not have a hospital. It is absurd.
“I was delighted with the turnout, I was nervous at 6.45pm, but it was great to see so many people standing up for their town.”
Independent councillor Geoff Lilley, who represents Greatham and has been a long-term critic of plans to move services away from the Holdforth Road site, lodged a formal request to senior councillors last night asking for the closure to be postponed until an extraordinary full council meeting can be set up.
In an email to council chairman Carl Richardson and Councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher, chair of the council’s health scrutiny forum, Coun Lilley said: “You will be aware of the rally. The message was simple – they are angry at the loss of hospital-based A&E in Hartlepool.
“I formally request that in view of this display of public concern, the Health Scrutiny Forum recognise this services loss is vehemently opposed by the people of Hartlepool and immediately contact North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust and request the removal of A&E is postponed until such time that HBC can discuss the situation at an extraordinary meeting of the Full Council with invited members from East Durham.”
David Emerton, medical director for North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust, said: “The plans are well progressed and we are continuing as planned for next week with the changes.
“People are reluctant to accept the change, but the change is still happening.”
Meanwhile, health chiefs denied claims that staff had been circulated with a memo yesterday afternoon telling them they would face disciplinary action if they attended the protest.
A North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust spokeswoman added: “Staff, as members of the public, are fully entitled to protest.
“But as representatives of the trust, for example by wearing a uniform, they are not.”