Thousands of people took to the streets of Huddersfield today to protest against a controversial shake-up of hospital services that could see the town losing its accident and emergency department.
An estimated crowd of 4,000 turned out for the demonstration, which began at 11.30am with a rally in St George’s Square.
Speakers included Colne Valley’s Conservative MP Jason McCartney and Kirklees Council leader Coun David Sheard.
The rally was followed by an hour-long march through the centre of Huddersfield that ended back in St George’s Square.
Today’s protest was staged as a show of the level of opposition to plans to centralise emergency care for Huddersfield and Halifax at the latter’s Calderdale Royal Hospital.
Both Calderdale Royal and Huddersfield Royal Infirmary (HRI) would also have “urgent care centres” treating less serious ailments.
The proposals have been drawn up by the Calderdale and Greater Huddersfield Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) to try to address a £280m funding gap.
Protestors taking part in the demonstration could be heard chanting: “CCG here us say, HRI is here to stay.”
There were also songs and even a Morris dancing display as people gathered in St George’s Square ahead of the march, organised by action group #HandsOffHRI.
One man came dressed as a surgeon, complete with a hospital-style trolley. A placard with a “Save our A&E” slogan was placed under an arm of the Harold Wilson statue in St George’s Square.
There were also repeated appeals for those present to make their voices heard when a public consultation on the NHS plans gets under way on March 15.
Helen Kingston, a member of the #HandsOffHRI steering committee, said: “The turnout was amazing. There were babies, older people, people in wheelchairs, people from so many different communities – it was fantastic to see.
“It almost brought tears to my eyes, being part of it. I didn’t know 98 per cent of the people who attended but I felt like they were all my best friends.
“The collaborative spirit was great and that is something we are desperate to keep going.”
Announcing details of the consultation process yesterday, Dr Steve Ollerton, chairman of Greater Huddersfield CCG, said: “We welcome the opportunity of having real discussions with people throughout the consultation and listening to their views.
“It is important that we describe some of the challenges that we face as a health community and the changes we are proposing.”
Calderdale CCG chair, Dr Alan Brook, said: “We are aware of the strength of feeling and passion that people have for health services and we encourage them to be actively involved in the consultation process.”