By Harriet Ernstsons 09/08 Updated: 09/08 09:40
REDDITCH came out fighting as protestors took to the streets to rally against plans to downgrade the Alexandra Hospital.
About 1,500 people from across the borough - as well as Bromsgrove, Studley, Alcester and the surrounding areas, marched through the town centre to the bandstand on Saturday (August 4) as a show of opposition to plans by Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust which could see A&E and maternity services cut at the Alex.
Organiser Neal Stote told the crowds more than 46,000 people had signed the petition in seven weeks - an average of more than 900 a day.
"In contrast the trust has engaged with 390 people with no attempt to speak to those outside the county. They were invited to our previous events in Redditch and were invited here today but they haven't turned up because they don't want to hear the bad news."
He added there was no proof Worcestershire Royal could cope with increased demand if all or some of the Alex's services were axed.
"Save The Alex doesn't oppose all change but we don't accept the current review will deliver a bright new world of community based care and we do not believe people will be best served by a 40 minute plus travel to Worcester.
"The Alex opened in 1986 and replaced Smallwood. The local people in Redditch lobbied for years to get their new hospital and today that very hospital stands to lose vital services and be downgraded to a cuts and bruises clinic. How can this be the future of our healthcare?"
MP Karen Lumley called on the crowds to write to the trust's chief executive Penny Venables following the rally.
"All of you need to go home today and write to the trust. Write individual letters and tell them about your experiences at the Alex.
"She needs 70,000 letters from the people of Redditch and the surrounding areas to say we will not tolerate your suggestions, we want our A and E and we intend to keep it.
"I stood six years ago with Jacqui Smith shoulder to shoulder to fight and save the Alex and we will save the Alex again. We are at the start of a very long journey. This is going to take a very long time but you must stick with Neal, stick with us and we must continue this fight to the very end."
Mrs Lumley also announced she had secured a meeting between health ministers, local councillors and the Save the Alex group to discuss the six models put forward by the Trust.
Labour Parliamentary spokeswoman Rebecca Blake compared the amount of names on the petition, which equates to almost ten per cent of the population of Worcestershire, to the number of people spoken to by the trust, which is less than 0.1 per cent.
"The last time we faced this in their wisdom they tried to take away A and E, maternity and paediatrics. To every argument they put up we shot it down together. I am convinced with the power of the people we can shoot down their arguments like we did before.
"I have heard from many people really horrendous stories about what the consequences of losing the hospital were to them. People's lives will be lost if the A and E is at Worcester and that's what it boils down to."
Passionate speeches were also given by Redditch Borough Council leader Bill Hartnett, who outlined the authority's full commitment to the campaign and the fight to keep services at the Alex, as well as Coun Debbie Taylor, responsible for health.
Opposition leader Carole Gandy - who worked at both Smallwood and the Alex - said she had been involved in similar campaigns at least twice previously.
"This is becoming a bad dream that will not go away although this time with the full closure of the hospital as one of the options it's becoming more like a total nightmare.
"This is the biggest fight to my knowledge this town has ever undertaken. Don't let us wake up and find this nightmare has become a reality."
Support was also received from across the Warwickshire border, with Studley councillor Hazel Wright telling the rally she had invited trust managers to join her on a journey from the village to Worcester with either an elderly resident or a young mother.
Warwickshire County Councillor Clive Rickhards slammed the situation as 'farcical'.
"We have been asked to accept a hospital built in the mid-1980s in a context of an increasing population and proven increased demand should have chunks taken away all in the name of progress and improvement."
He spoke about the Olympic opening ceremony, which featured a segment paying tribute to the NHS, and called on the crowd to 'carry a torch for the NHS'.
Many protestors had very personal reasons for attending, with some claiming the Alex had saved the lives of themselves or their loved ones.
Malcolm Hughes from Ravensmere Road, said his life had been saved 'on several occasions' by the Woodrow hospital.
"It is truly appalling. It's not a case of money, it's a case of people, people come first.
"It is most important, every single person in the country needs a hospital at some time."
Smallwood resident Linda Hall told the Standard her husband Robert had relied on the hospital throughout his cancer battle.
"We have had cause in the last six months to use A and E twice. If we had to get all the way to Worcester or the QE he wouldn't be here to tell the tale. It is quite clear that without the Alex I wouldn't have my husband."
In a statement, the trust said it was 'only right' people should express their views about the future of Worcestershire health services.
" We are focused on preparing for a full consultation with the people of Worcestershire which we aim to begin in November and will run for three months.
"All views expressed so far, including by campaigners, correspondence and at our seven public meetings will be taken in to account before any final decisions are made."
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