UP TO 3,000 workers and youth marched behind the banner of the North East London Council of Action through Enfield on Saturday, demanding that Chase Farm Hospital remain open.
The determined demonstrators assembled in Enfield, before marching through the town centre to Chase Farm, with people cheering and joining in all along the route, from mothers pushing prams to elderly people – even some disabled people took part.
Banners on the march included: North East London Council of Action, Maternity Chase Farm Hospital, All Trades Unions Alliance, Barnet Local Government UNISON, Save Chase Farm – Stop Hospital Cuts, Keep Our NHS Public and the banner of the Chagos Islanders Community Association.
All through the march there were loud shouts of: ‘One, two, three – save our A&E!’, ‘This is your local hospital – come and join our march!’, ‘Hands off A&E! Hands of Maternity! Hands off the Children’s Wards! Hands off our Hospitals!’, ‘Defend the NHS – save Chase Farm!’, ‘Defend the free health service!’, ‘No cuts, no closures – defend the NHS!’, ‘Defend Chase Farm – Save our hospital!’, ‘Defend our hospitals – kick out the privateers!’, ‘No polyclinics – keep Chase Farm open!’, ‘Occupy Chase Farm – stop the closures!’, ‘Defend the NHS – kick the government out!’
And lots and lots of people were carrying flags and banners, saying: ‘We have spelt it out in black and white, keep maternity and children’s services at Chase Farm’; ‘We say No! to transfers from Chase Farm’; ‘No matter where, congestion is there’; ‘Save Chase Farm Hospital’; ‘Our Hospital, our Health, listen to us – We want ALL services retained at Chase Farm’; ‘I love NHS’; ‘Save ourselves, save Chase Farm’, ‘Proposals to transfer A&E, maternity and children’s services from Chase Farm. We say NO!’; ‘Scenario “E’’. Say No to all other options’; and ‘SOS – Save our Services’.
Local resident Sheila Nellis said: ‘I think it’s important to keep it open. How far is Barnet hospital from here? They can’t actually cope now, nor North Middlesex, so I think it’s absolutely vital.’
Susan Harris, from Ponders End, said: ‘We feel very strongly. It’s services we desperately need.
‘Many people such as pensioners who haven’t got vehicles would have difficulty getting to Barnet which is a small A&E and couldn’t cope.’
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Janet Ellis from Enfield said: ‘My husband suffers from a heart condition. He’s had a heart attack and several strokes and it would put his life in danger if he had to go to Barnet.
‘If the hospital closed, I don’t think Barnet and North Middlesex could cope, so for anyone who suffers strokes or heart problems, it is going to put their life in danger to go over to Barnet.’
Colin Bays, another local resident, said: ‘It serves a really big area. If you’ve got an emergency, I wouldn’t want to be someone trying to get to Barnet and North Middlesex in a hurry, because you’ve got no chance!
‘They shut Highlands hospital not that long ago really, so the area could be losing two hospitals, not just one.’
Ken, from Haringey, said: ‘I’ve just come to support all hospitals. All general hospitals need to be kept open.’
He added: ‘At the end of the day, us and the staff who work for these public services are being taken away without any other solution for the public.
‘Everything will be sold off, especially for elderly – the post offices closing down, the hospitals closing down – there’s nothing for the elderly any more. They’re not thinking of the public.
‘It is not only privatisation, it is a deep, deep attack on democracy.’
Councillor Kieran McGregor said: ‘Everyone in Enfield is opposed to the closure and the consultation they’ve carried out has been a sham, a farce, particularly as they asked the residents of three different boroughs to vote on the issue.’
Local resident Angie said: ‘You should have your local hospital where it is, accessible for local people.
‘I have to go to Barnet to a special clinic. We did have a car to drive there, but even though the appointment was at 8.30, we had to leave 40-50 minutes to get there – and sometimes we struggled to get there on time. So just imagine how it would be for an ambulance.’
Richard Reeve, from the Save Chase Farm Hospital campaign, said: ‘The main thing is Chase Farm is local and the journey times to Barnet or North Middlesex for people in this area are just not acceptable.’
He added: ‘We need a fully-functioning A&E at Chase Farm Hospital. The PCTs are flying in the face of public opinion.’
Mr Butler, from Enfield, said: ‘You can’t close any more hospitals, we’ve got to keep the A&E open for casualties and emergencies.’
Kinu Ohki, from Enfield, said: ‘If they close Chase Farm we have to go to Barnet. That’s not convenient at all, especially for elderly people, it’s so difficult.’
Edna Welling from Enfield said: ‘They’re already sending patients who need radiotherapy to other hospitals.
‘If we don’t occupy it now, how else can it be kept open?’
Jane, from Enfield, said: ‘I had three children at Chase Farm. I’m a local resident and I work there, and I feel as if the closure of Chase Farm is a theft of public property and misuse of public funds – building private housing all over it to pay off Barnet’s PFI debt – and I think a young and growing community like Enfield should have its own hospital.
‘I think it would particularly hit the young and elderly and those living on the eastern side of Enfield, who don’t have private transport, if Chase Farm closed.’
Ruta Rusenieks, a former Enfield resident now living in Bristol, said: ‘I visit my elderly parents, who still live here, very regularly.
‘This summer in particular, my father was in hospital from July until the end of September and at one point in August we had to use the A&E to get him quickly readmitted to hospital as an emergency patient.
‘And without the expertise of the consultant and his team at Chase Farm, and the two major operations that were carried out, it may well have been that my father wouldn’t have actually lived that long. And yesterday he celebrated his 84th birthday at home with us.
‘So I’m here today particularly for him, because he’s bed bound and profoundly disabled and is not able to march himself.’
Dr Zohra Banu joined the march and said: ‘This large-scale destruction of District General Hospitals is going to be very detrimental to morbidity and mortality in the areas where they are closed or where they are destroyed.’
He added: ‘The infant mortality rate has definitely gone up in England and the maternal mortality rate is not good in England.
‘Lord Darzi’s proposals are a disaster for the NHS.’
John Burgess, branch secretary of Barnet Local Government UNISON, said: ‘It’s a madness policy to close local hospitals for local communities, absolute madness.’
Stephen Wortley, an Enfield resident, said: ‘It’s important to save Chase Farm because a residential place the size of Enfield needs more than one hospital at the southern tip.
‘Barnet is too far to get to, lives will be lost. That’s just for the people of Enfield. But the people of eastern Enfield, of Cheshunt and Waltham Cross – they’re going to be abandoned.’
Rosetta Reeves, a member of the North East London Council of Action, said: ‘The Council of Action has been set up to defend the NHS and all the services that are being cut.
‘We’re just amazed that the government has not been listening, despite a long period of canvassing, community involvement and protests to parliament.
‘They still insist on taking our local services away and we have decided now to fight to the end and will defend the NHS by all means. We will occupy the hospital if we have to.
‘They want us to accept a second-hand service, where the weak, old and young will have to travel long distances. They will not make it.’
At a rally at the hospital, Bill Rogers, secretary of North East London Council of Action, thanked everyone who had taken part in the Council of Action’s protests and pickets over the last year.
‘We’re opposed to any cuts and closures at Chase Farm Hospital and we will not allow this Brown government to destroy healthcare,’ he said.
‘We’re for keeping the hospital and we’re prepared to do everything necessary to keep Chase Farm fully functioning as a District General Hospital and should it become necessary, we’re prepared to occupy the hospital to prevent the closure,’ he added to loud cheers.
He continued: ‘We do represent the majority. We’ve spoken to thousands of people in Enfield during our campaigns and pickets and no one supports the closures.
‘It is ripping out the heart of the hospital and no one thinks a privately-run polyclinic can replace this hospital.
‘The Darzi plan will close over half of London’s District General Hospitals. We don’t agree with it.
‘It also means putting an end to NHS General Practices.’
Rogers added: ‘I’ve been a train driver on the railways for nearly 30 years and we know that A&E closures will mean deaths.
‘In our industry men and women can have the most appalling accidents. A shunter had both his legs severed in Harlow.
‘We need these departments.
‘The NHS is a vital necessity.’
Rogers added: ‘During the whole of this year we’ve organised monthly pickets and spoken to lots of people and they all say they need the paediatrics, the maternity and A&E departments.’
He said that ‘The risks of mortality increase by 13 per cent if you have to travel further.
‘To have to go to Barnet will cost people their lives.’
Rogers concluded: ‘The trade unions must call a general strike and bring down the Brown government and bring in a workers’ government that would halt the hospital closures.
‘A workers’ government would develop and improve the NHS, not cut it to ribbons.’
Consultant surgeon Anna Athow said: ‘Why is Chase Farm Hospital a wonderful place? It’s an NHS District General Hospital.
‘You can come to casualty and be seen by junior doctors working under the guidance and supervision of consultants.
‘You will have your X-rays and blood tests done, as there is 24-hour cover, and you will be offered timely surgery as required.
‘And if you had any other medical condition, such as diabetes, or a lung or heart condition, it would be possible to see a physician who specialises in these.
‘If you had serious complications you could have full intensive care until recovery.’
She said District General Hospitals provide comprehensive care and teach and train junior doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and other paramedics.
All this is free to everyone. This is what the NHS has achieved, she added.
She slammed the so-called ‘public consultation’ on the future of Chase Farm as a ‘propaganda exercise’, warning: ‘They have moved out breast surgery and closed a lot of clinics and moved a lot of patients out to other hospitals.
‘Whatever they say, both options 1 and 2 mean closing the hospital.
‘There would be no in-patient beds for acute emergencies, no 24-hour operating theatres, no intensive care unit, no paediatrics and maternity, no accident and emergency – it would just be a walk-in centre.
‘All the consultant teams would be dismantled and dispersed, bar the odd clinic and there would be no more junior doctors.
‘With the distances involved, patients’ lives would inevitably be lost trying to reach Barnet and North Middlesex.’
She added: ‘This government is privatising our doctors and nurses.
‘Gordon Brown is desperate to throw a lifeline to big business in the form of public/private partnerships in the NHS.
‘Money is being wasted on Private Finance Initiatives at Barnet and North Middlesex that should be spent on reopening wards at Chase Farm.
‘NHS hospitals and land are public property. This government has no mandate to close them down and sell them off.
‘The French trade unions show us the way. We need to build up our Council of Action to occupy the hospital and keep it working.
‘We need a government that represents the interests of ordinary working people and that will carry out socialist policies.’
Sue Fitzgerald from Chase Farm maternity unit, said: ‘There are still thousands of people supporting this campaign, as we see today.
‘I’m a midwife. Join with me and keep the maternity unit open.’
Rob Bolton, chair of the South Central No.1 branch of the CWU postal workers’ union in Hertfordshire, said: ‘The same attacks are happening in Royal Mail, they’re shutting down post offices, they’re shutting down delivery offices.
‘They’re doing this to every public service up and down the country.
‘We need a general strike to bring this government down and to go forwards to a socialist society.’
Barry Cross, from the campaign to save the QE2 Hospital in Welwyn, said: ‘We support you from the Welwyn/Hatfield Keep the NHS Public Campaign.
‘The same sort of thing is happening in our areas.
‘The Trust wants the whole of Hertfordshire to have just two hospitals.
‘Hemel are moving services to Watford and they’re centralising services to Lister Hospital in Stevenage.
‘As far as we’re concerned the consultation process is closed.
‘They really want to turn us into a polyclinic.
‘You’re ahead of us in terms of a Council of Action.
‘We’ve got 36,000 supporters and we’re here to support you in your campaign.’
Bill Rogers invited everyone to the Council of Action next meeting on Tuesday December 4 at the British Legion Hall in Tottenham High Road.
At the end of the march, 200 demonstrators picketed the clocktower inside the hospital grounds in protest at the closure plans.