Hundreds of people took to the streets of Boston town centre yesterday as the public turned out in force to support campaigners fighting to restore services to Pilgrim Hospital.
Families from all over Lincolnshire joined the SOS Pilgrim – Call to Action Stride as part of ongoing protests over cuts to maternity services and children's services at the Boston hospital.
Organisers were delighted by the turnout, and say the almost 400 people who joined the march says suggestions that the changes made by the trust that runs the hospital that people are 'gaining confidence' in the changes it has made are misplaced.
The United Lincolnshire Health Trust (ULHT) introduced a number of changes this August, which meant any child needing more than 12 hours observation and any expectant mum needing medical attention not yet at 34 weeks will be moved to another hospital.
The Trust said the changes would only affect a small amount of people, but campaigners say they represent a downgrading of services and have fought to get the previous levels of care restored.
The march yesterday was organised as a bid to show the strength of feeling in support of the hospital, and those behind it say it did that very successfuly.
One of the organisers, Emma Wilcock, said: "We are absolutely blown away by how many people attended!
"Almost 400 people came out to show ULHT that the changes to Neonatal and Paediatrics will not be taken without a fight.
"We are a united community of parents and campaigners. We were joined by Unions, support groups and the Fighting 4 Life Lincolnshire campaign group who we work closely with. It was more successful than we could ever of hoped for and we are thankful to all those who attended."
Among those on the march were councillors from across Lincolnshire, Boston and Skegness MP Matt Warman and South Holland and The Deepings MP John Hayes. MEP Rory Palmer sent a message of support.
"The march was the public's chance to have their say, and have their say they did," said Emma.
"These downgrades and closures have already seen in excess of 50 families displaced and these are families who could quite easily of been cared for at Pilgrim if our services hadn't been downgraded.
"We were told that children would go to Lincoln, but sadly Lincoln has reached capacity on occasion and so children have been transferred to Peterborough, Nottingham and Grimsby which is putting pressure on our neighbouring Trusts before the winter pressures have even started.
"We understand the staffing issues currently being faced by ULHT, but what the Trust need to understand is that by closing and downgrading services, they are putting added pressure on families not just financially but emotionally and that is just not acceptable."
She thanked Boston Borough and Lincolnshire County Councils, Cllr Paul Gleeson for his speech, Lincolnshire Police, the team of stewards and helpers on the day, Pilgrim Foods for the balloons, the GMB for a kind donation to our fundraising, and Chaela Bestall for sharing her story about her son Curtis and officially opening our march.
"We are all just overwhelmingly grateful to everyone involved," Emma added.
"Dr Hepburn of ULHT said that consultation events had become 'less well attended' as time had gone on and he misinterpreted this lack of attendance as 'people gaining confidence'. I think this goes a long way to show just how poorly planned the ULHT meetings are as our events are just growing in size.
"Our public meetings have had over 200 attendees each time, and with the march yesterday having nearly 400, it begs the question are ULHT really doing all they can to engage with the public. The opinions, banners and attendance at yesterdays event just goes to prove that Dr Hepburn's presumption that people are gaining confidence was clearly misplaced."