Concerned health service users from across Derbyshire crammed into Belper’s Strutts Centre on Friday to voice their support for the town’s ‘under threat’ Babington Hospital.
Around 30 people of all ages braved torrential rain to attend the meeting, which was also attended by politicians, activists and the local TUC.
After a ‘teach-in’ at the community centre, the protesters spilled outside where - despite repeatedly stopping the traffic - they were loudly supported by many Derby Road motorists.
Newly-elected Labour district councillor for Belper Central and, one of the protest organisers, Maurice Neville, said: “We have learned in the last couple of years that there may be a plan to close off the Babington and have its services delivered elsewhere.
“We are very concerned about that and have had no detail on it and we are here to show our solidarity with the staff and that we regard the Babington as a major asset for Belper and something that we would like to keep if at all possible.
“We understand that the NHS needs to make savings and that there may be problems with the Babington buildings, but we need to know a lot more about what the issues are, whether it is possible to repair and whether we are going to get decent services elsewhere in the town if this building is closed.”
The protest group, which is called Belper NHS SOS, is part of a national network of health service activists called Keep Our National Health Public (KONHP).
During the debate at the community centre before the protest there were a range of speakers and speeches.
Moz Greenshields, from the Trades Union Council, gave their support to the group and said there had been lots of successful hospital protests in other parts of the country.
Another speaker asked why would the CCG consider shutting down a hospital which has such and excellent track record of care and cleanliness.
And, during an impassioned speech, 15-year-old Uther Naysmith, from Matlock, said the NHS was ‘at a crossroads’ and it was important to make sure our NHS ‘did not go the same way as BHS’.
For their part, NHS Southern Derbyshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has said Babington Hospital will not be removed without an ‘equivalent or better’ facility being in place in the town and that they were still in the process of ‘finalising options’.
Gary Thompson, the CCG’s Chief Officer, said: “The building is old and struggles to meet modern standards and while the care provided there is safe and of excellent quality, we know that the NHS cannot rely on the hospital working properly for much longer. So we have to find a solution and we are doing that as quickly as we can. I’d hope that we would have proposals for review by our governing body meeting in late autumn.”
Another of the protest’s organisers, Keith Venables, is also the national co-chair of KONHP.
Speaking about the wider picture across the country, he said: “There has been a decision made by the Government to enable the whole of the NHS to become private and part of trying to manage that is a recent decision to make big ‘footstep’ areas where funding is managed and controlled and cut back.
“The chancellor said in last year’s budget that over the next five years they would reduce the money available to the NHS by £30 billion, with eight billion coming back for certain projects.
“So we are concerned that £22 billion is going to be knocked off the NHS budget and that is only possible because the way that it is organised now is that it is being fragmented and privatised.”
The ‘father’ of the NHS, Labour politician Aneurin Bevan, said the NHS would only survive as long as there were people who would fight for it.
From the turnout last Friday in Belper, it seems like that is still very much the case.