A fantastic protest in support of the campaign to keep King George Hospital yesterday. The sun shone as we gathered outside Queen's Hospital in Romford, banners and yellow T shirts much in evidence. I wore my cream summer suit for the first time this year - The Man From Del Monte says No to KGH closures...
After a morale boosting speech from local MP Andrew Rosindell, we were marshalled into some sort of order by Cllr Andy Walker who has done so much to coordinate the campaign. Councillors from all parties featured in the march, including Havering's official residents and even the independent residents. Cllr Jeff Tucker had brought his own megaphone to encourage us every step of the way.
We set off in beating sunshine, along Crow Lane to Chadwell Heath. All the way passing cars were hooting their support and the locals cheered us on. Just as well, as it was a lot further than had been envisaged and some of the older marchers had started to flag. At this point I made the ultimate sacrifice, taking some of the slower protestors on the number 86 bus, which followed the route of the march, on through Goodmayes and Seven Kings. Along the way we picked up stragglers - good for them for making the effort - until we virtually filled the bus. We considered flying banners out of the top deck but decided that TfL would be unhappy - perhaps hiring an open topped bus for future marches would be a good idea. Or even a bendy, there will be plenty going spare now...
As Ilford came in sight we alighted to complete the final stage on foot. Jeff was still straining the megaphone and there was yet more applause from the people we passed - this is the area that stands to lose most from the closure. An attractive girl dashed over and embraced me spontaneously - is this what it is like to be a socialist? Maybe it has its attractions after all.
At the Town Hall we met local MPs, Lee Scott, Mike Gapes and Margaret Hodge. Pictures were taken on the steps and there was much chanting and arm waving. As a Tory, I don't do this very often and it felt a bit awkward, but it was in a good cause.
The Town Hall itself was packed with over 600 people attending to show their support. The meeting was ably chaired by veteran trade unionist Bob Archer. We heard speeches from all the MPs, but also some really moving contributions from local people. One man told how King George Hospital had saved his son's life after he had a seizure. Support came from Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus and Christians - this campaign is cross community as well as cross party.
As each guest spoke, the faults in the health service proposals were laid bare. The Independent Reconfiguration Panel is now considering the plans and will report to the Secretary of State later this year. They will be visiting the hospitals affected, interviewing MPs and councillors, and most importantly taking evidence of personal experience from the residents. Contributions to this review are vital and can be sent to:
The Independent Review Panel
157-197 Buckingham Palace Road
020 7389 8046