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Last Updated: Saturday, 14 October 2006, 14:40 GMT 15:40 UK
NHS protests staged by thousands
Surgeons in theatre
Organisers believe up to 60 acute hospitals are under threat
Thousands of people have taken part in demonstrations organised in protest at cuts in the health service.

Organisers fear up to 60 hospitals could be closed or downgraded as trusts struggle to tackle growing deficits.

Police said about 7,000 protesters were at Haywards Heath. A BBC correspondent said there were about 200 at Oxford. Protests were also held in Brighton.

The Department of Health said the NHS was looking at the "safest and most effective" way of delivering care.

...NHS cuts could become New Labour's poll tax and the government would be well advised to back off...
Geoff Martin, Health Emergency

This did "not mean wholesale closures of district general hospitals" but NHS clinicians and managers needed to work with local communities to decide on the best organisation of services for patients in their areas, a spokesman said.

But Geoff Martin, head of campaigns at pressure group Health Emergency, said he expected thousands more people would be joining "the national fightback against the government's cuts programme for the NHS".

"They know that the planned axing of front line services has nothing to do with a rational planning process and everything to do with hacking back the NHS budget.

"Further demonstrations are planned up and down the country over the coming weeks and as it becomes clearer where the cuts targets are, we will be turning up the heat," said Mr Martin.

'Full consultation'

He claimed growing anger at NHS cuts could become New Labour's poll tax and the government would be "well advised to back off on the closure programme or risk electoral meltdown".

The Department of Health spokesman said people were aware that hospital services were changing.

The White Paper, Our Health, Our Care, Our Say, set out plans to shift some services into the community to ensure faster, better and more convenient access for patients.

But he said any "significant changes to services" would only be carried out after "full consultation with local people".

Most trusts were not planning to make people redundant and where they had notified local people of their intention to make redundancies, "the actual number invariably has turned out to be much smaller than the original figure," he said.


SEE ALSO
Marchers fight to keep hospital
08 Oct 06 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts
Protesters march for baby service
07 Oct 06 |  Bradford

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