VOTERS in both the Stoke-on-Trent and Copeland by-elections go to the polls today to elect new MPs for the seats held by Labour at the last general election.
These by-elections have become a crucial battleground with the NHS and its defence the front line issue. During Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday Theresa May was called out by Sue Hayman, MP for Workington, near to Copeland, who said Cumberland Hospital campaigners had been ‘turned away at the gates’ of Downing Street.
The We Need West Cumberland Hospital campaign group said it was furious after it was barred from entering Downing Street and was told: ‘You can’t come in. Today is not a good day. After Thursday would be better.’ They attempted to hand in the 30,000-signature petition against the cuts.
May denied this, claiming: ‘A petition was, indeed, delivered to No.10. The petition was accepted by No.10 Downing Street yesterday.’ But however Labour insists that the PM did not accept the petition. Also during PM’s Questions May declined – as she did in the constituency last week – to say whether she opposed the downgrade of maternity services at the hospital in Copeland, a key by-election issue.
When asked whether she supported the closure or not, the Prime Minister said only that Trudy Harrison, the Conservative candidate in Copeland, opposed the downgrade. Adding: ‘I am aware of the issues that have been raised around West Cumberland Hospital. She has made very clear that she wants to see no downgrading of services at West Cumberland Hospital. She has made that clear to me and to health ministers.’
Gillian Troughton, Labour’s candidate in the Copeland by-election, accused Theresa May of a ‘disgraceful snub’ to local NHS campaigners. Troughton is also a St John ambulance driver, she said: ‘Time and time again the Prime Minister has being given opportunities to act to halt the cuts to West Cumberland Hospital and every time she has refused to do so.
‘Her snub of the campaigners delivering their petition to Downing Street yesterday was a disgrace – it speaks volumes for this government’s attitude towards our local health services. It is clear the West Cumberland Hospital won’t last long under the Tories – if I’m elected as Copeland’s new MP I’ll fight with all I have to save it.’
The future of the hospital has been at the centre of the by-election with Troughton highlighting her work in the health service amid an intense Tory campaign. Gareth Snell is Labour’s candidate in the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election and he says that Hospital waiting times and community bed closures are the central issues at the centre of his campaign.
According to recently released figures, around 35,000 patients were left waiting for at least four hours at the Royal Stoke University Hospital’s accident unit over a 12-month period. The A&E department also had 336 trolley waits of at least 12 hours since April – when the government says there should be no waits this long.
A controversial review on the future of community hospital beds in North Staffordshire has now been delayed until after the by-election. In both by-elections the NHS is the number one issue and with May and the Tories cutting and slashing the service the likelyhood is that Labour will be able to retain both seats, serving notice on the Tories that their time is up.