Big Barnstaple protest march and rally as thousands show their support for local health services and say: ‘No cuts’

Thousands turned out for North Devon Sees Red Day in Barnstaple.Thousands turned out for North Devon Sees Red Day in Barnstaple.

Thousands took to the streets of Barnstaple today (Saturday) for the big North Devon Sees Red Day protest over health service cuts.

The High Street was filled as a procession of people wearing red and bearing banners made their way along it and around Butchers Row to the Square.

Organisers from Save Our Hospital Services (SOHS) estimated as many as 4,000 people joined the procession, with at least 2,000 filling the Square to capacity.

From the stage, various speakers addressed the crowd calling on them to stand against any cuts to their local health services in the face of the ongoing Success Regime and sustainability and transformation plan (STP) reviews.

There are fears maternity, stroke, paediatric and A and E services could be at risk. Among the marchers were many children who had been born at North Devon District Hospital and there were numerous stories from parents who said theirs and their children’s lives had been saved there.

Speakers included campaigners Ian Williams and Netti Pearson of SOHS as well as North Devon MP Peter Heaton-Jones.

Ian said the turn out was ‘absolutely remarkable’: “The cause is just and true and people have responded to it,” he said.

“It was interesting to see the passion and commitment people have, wonderful. But this is just the start, there’s a long way to go, we have got to make parliament overturn this decision.”

He said SOHS was in touch with small protest groups all over the country and would be seeking to join forces to have a national impact.

Netti Pearson told the crowd: “We demand proper funding and a good future for our local hospital. We have heard that if these cuts go ahead it will mean our hospital will become a large cottage hospital.

“We have all come here today to say that is not acceptable. We have lost community beds, they are looking to cut even more, not just community but acute beds.”

And she said she had a message for the Success Regime decision makers and Dr Alison Diamond, chief executive of Northern Devon Healthcare Trust: “Turn off your STP, it’s not wanted here. Unlike you with your ‘no red lines’, we have a red line, right around our hospital services.”

Thousands turned out for North Devon Sees Red Day in Barnstaple.Thousands turned out for North Devon Sees Red Day in Barnstaple.

Peter Heaton-Jones, wearing red under his suit jacket, was greeted with some heckling when he took the stage, but he said he was happy to be there to soak up the anger.

He said: “I do not want there to be any cuts to acute services at NDDH and have made it as patently clear as I possibly can to all those who will make this decision.

“I will work as hard as I possibly can to make sure as your representative I get those voices across.

“The fact that we have such an amazing turn out today is not only testament to the strength of feeling but also to this Save Our Hospital Services campaign.”