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Last Updated: Saturday, 31 July, 2004, 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK
Protest over hospital shake-up
Thousands attended the march in Greenock
Thousands attended the march in Greenock
Thousands of people opposed to plans to downgrade Inverclyde Royal Hospital (IRH) have marched through Greenock.

Argyll and Clyde health board unveiled cuts to its service in June aimed at curbing a 42m budget overspend.

The cutbacks will mean the downgrading of IRH and the possible closure of five smaller hospitals for the elderly and mentally ill.

Labour MSP for Greenock and Inverclyde Duncan McNeil said around 4,000 people attended the march and rally.

Accident and emergency

He said: "People took the opportunity to demonstrate their opposition to the health board's proposals and they are hopeful that the turn out today can turn up the heat on the health board."

The NHS Argyll and Clyde area covers a population of more than 400,000, stretching from Oban to Paisley, and including 26 inhabited islands.

In a consultation paper, the health board warned that some services would collapse if changes were not made.

Proposals to reduce the services available at IRH and Vale of Leven in West Dunbartonshire would leave the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley as the area's main accident and emergency department.

People are concerned all over Scotland, not just in Inverclyde and Greenock, in regards to the shortages in consultants and junior doctors and cut backs.
Duncan McNeil
Labour MSP
It would also be the only hospital able to carry out complex surgery.

Mr McNeil said the clinical strategy raised more questions than it answered and feared centralisation would lead to problems for patients.

He said the planned move of accident and emergency units to Paisley raised concern for patients having to travel further.

And Mr McNeil had little faith in a planned public consultation.

'Real debate'

He said: "The cutbacks and the consultation is not satisfactory. It limits the scope of what you can discuss."

The march culminated in a rally where Mr McNeil was joined by MSPs from other political parties, including Scottish Socialist Frances Curran, SNP MSP Bruce McFee and environment minister Ross Finnie, and trade union leaders.

Mr McNeil, who is also a member of Holyrood's Health Committee, hoped the march would encourage a "real debate" about the centralisation of health services in Scotland.

He said: "People are concerned all over Scotland, not just in Inverclyde and Greenock, in regards to the shortages in consultants and junior doctors and cut backs."

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