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Last Updated: Sunday, 8 October 2006, 04:07 GMT 05:07 UK
NHS rallies 'echo poll tax anger'
Rally to save Alexandra Hospital
Up to 200 took part in the rally in Redditch this month
A rising number of protests against cuts in the NHS is threatening to rival the 1990s rebellion against the Tories' poll tax, campaigners have said.

They claim action could increase as the impact of the overhaul in hospitals in England begins to hit home.

Demonstrators are due to form a human chain around a West Sussex hospital and several rallies took place on Saturday.

The Department of Health said decisions on significant changes will only be made after full public consultation.

The government has said the practice of providing a wide range of care under one roof was not right for the 21st century.

There's been nothing like this since the spontaneous rebellion against the poll tax
Geoff Martin, Health Emergency

NHS Trusts are looking at shifting care away from hospitals into community settings and placing greater emphasis on the private sector and 60 sites are said to be under threat.

Meanwhile, the NHS ended last year more than 500m in deficit, which has already led to job cuts, delayed operations and ward closures.

'Good' hospitals

The protests have attracted both health professionals and members of the public affected by potential changes.

The Keep Worthing and Southlands Hospitals campaign will gather at the site on Sunday afternoon.

On Saturday, more than 1,000 people took part in a protest in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, where Hinchingbrooke Hospital is vulnerable to closure because of a 24m debt.

Supporters also came from Suffolk where Hartismere Hospital in Eye is to close and 16 beds are to go from Aldeburgh.

A Huddersfield protest related to a decision to switch the town's maternity services to a hospital in Halifax.

In recent weeks demonstrators have also turned out in Southampton, Nottingham, Cambridge, Redditch, Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham and Epsom.

"An extraordinary grass roots movement against government policy on hospital closures and privatisation is putting thousands of people on the streets every weekend in villages, town and cities the length and breadth of the country," said Geoff Martin, head of campaigns at pressure group Health Emergency.

"There's been nothing like this since the spontaneous rebellion against the poll tax in the early 90s.

NHS clinicians and managers need to work with local communities to decide on the best organisation of services for patients in their areas
Department of Health

"The government is right to be worried. The full scale of its closure programme, which will involve up to 60 major acute hospitals, has yet to hit home and when it does the scale of the protest will ratchet up several notches."

Karen Jennings, head of health at Unison, said local people were joining protests "in their droves".

"It shows that people are not interested in choice or privatisation," she said.

"What they want is a good local hospital they can use when they are sick."

Labour leadership contender John McDonnell MP has said the government risked losing dozens of seats at the next general election in areas affected by NHS cuts.

The Department of Health said the government's white paper on the future of hospital services was "based on what the public told us they wanted from community and primary health services".

A spokesman said: "The NHS is also looking at the safest and most effective way of delivering care and this does mean that there will be changes.

"It does not mean wholesale closures of district general hospitals, but it does mean that NHS clinicians and managers need to work with local communities to decide on the best organisation of services for patients in their areas."

Scenes from some of the protests

Protesters march for baby service
07 Oct 06 |  Bradford
Protest rally over hospital cuts
05 Oct 06 |  Hereford/Worcs
Protest rally against NHS changes
30 Sep 06 |  Southern Counties
Hospital protest hailed a success
30 Sep 06 |  Oxfordshire
Q&A: The future of hospitals
19 Sep 06 |  Health

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