Mass protest on Carlisle streets over health service cuts
Pregnant women, families with children and NHS staff were among the 800-strong crowd that took to the streets of Carlisle in opposition to health service cuts.
United against controversial Success Regime plans to downgrade maternity and children’s services and close community hospital beds, as well as wider fears for the health service nationally, the Our NHS demo - organised by- attracted protesters from all over north, west and east Cumbria.
It was the first time groups from Whitehaven, Maryport, Carlisle, Alston, Workington, Penrith, Brampton and other Cumbrian communities had joined together for a mass protest, but the message was clear - the fight for the local NHS must go on.
Held in Carlisle city centre of Saturday lunchtime, it saw hundreds of people gather for rally outside the Old Town Hall before marching through the streets.
From pensioners to mums with prams, political activists and union members to disabled campaigners, the event attracted people from all walks of life and all age groups.
Speakers took to the stage to deliver strong messages to the passionate crowds, before the parade set off down Scotch Street, round past Debenhams, up Lowther Street and back down English Street for further speeches and live music.
Headed by a skeleton lying in hospital bed, the event aimed to highlight not just the cuts affecting Cumbria but also the wider national crisis facing the NHS.
Clutching an array of original placards and many dressed in campaign T-shirts, the parade stopped traffic as it headed through the busy city centre streets.
Campaigners made themselves heard with chants, whistles, horns and drums, sending out a strong message to NHS chiefs locally and nationally.
The rally came exactly a month after(CCG) approved highly unpopular plans, drawn up by the Government’s Success Regime, for health services in north, west and east Cumbria.
This happened despite widespread opposition, with 10,000 people backing the News & Star Save Our Services campaign rejecting the proposals.
Although the CCG made some concessions, such as giving consultant-led maternity services in Whitehaven a year’s reprieve and agreeing to work with communities set to lose their beds to find alternatives, there remains a strong consensus that the decisions it made were not in the best interests of local people.
Speakers included west Cumbrian mum Andrea Murray with her baby son Benjamin, who she believes would not have survived had there not been consultant-led maternity services at the West Cumberland Hospital.
She said: “We are still not done fighting. We have to keep our hospital and it’s services. It’s just one part of a much bigger problem. Every community has to do the same. We have to fight this together.”
Carlisle activist Suzanne Kelsey read a poem Silent Witness, urging people not to stand by and watch the NHS being stripped of services.
She was joined on stage by 19-year-old west Cumbrian campaigner Heather Dempsey, who accused health bosses of “trying to pull the wool over the eyes” of Cumbrian people. “The more we make our voices heard the more chance we have to make a change. We have to fight back,” she added.
“What’s really nice about this campaign is that people understand that this affects everyone. Anyone can be struck down by ill health, no matter how much money they have. This is a real community issue.”
Retired paediatrician Mike Downham also spoke, and was joined on stage by four-year-old Brampton youngster Emily Graham.
Afterwards her mum, Hazel Graham, said: “The main thing for me is that, if the decision makers and the Government thought they could play a game of divide and conquer with communities in Cumbria, they were wrong.
“We have come together and said we reject all of the proposals. We will not be divided. The people these cuts are going to affect most are very vulnerable people - the elderly, young babies, sick children. They might not have a voice, but we have.”
Fourteen-year-old Molly Davies, Allerdale’s youth mayor, was also at the demo. She said: “Healthcare is a basic human right. The Government is prioritising cutting costs over saving lives and it’s just not acceptable.”
Alice Bondi, of the Alston Moor Health Campaign, hit out at plans to close community hospital beds in Alston, Maryport and Wigton, saying the ramifications would be felt much wider than those three communities.
“If you want an NHS that is for people, take good note of what is being done to the community hospitals. They are not a quaint reminder of olden days. They are the canary in the coal mine,” she said.
Bill Barnes, chairman of the Maryport Save Our Beds group, was among a bus full of campaigners from the town. “I do think that decisions have already been made but we have to show the Government that we will not take this lying down,” he said.
Dolly Daniel, a retired NHS manager from Maryport, added: “We were keen to show our support today. We all have to keep fighting.”
Retired public health doctor, of Cumbria Health Campaigns Together, was among the organisers. She said: “I just want to thank everyone who came out to support our NHS. We really need it at this point. It’s in absolutely desperate measures.”
She was also critical of local health bosses for not allowing staff to express their views on the Success Regime plans publicly, quoting the case of west Cumbrian midwife Bernadette Bowness, who is facing disciplinary action after speaking to the media following the controversial decisions about maternity services.
“We have asked health staff, nurses and doctors, to speak at the rally but they can’t. They are being gagged. They are now allowed,” she added.
Cumbria Health Campaigns Together is an umbrella group for the various community campaigns across the county, aiming to coordinate the continuing fight against the Success Regime plans and wider NHS cuts.
- The Carlisle Socialist party is tonight hosting its own open meeting about defending the NHS. It takes place at 7pm in the South End Constitutional Club, St Nicholas Street.