Protestors chanting 'No ifs, no buts, no NHS cuts' gathered outside Skegness Town Hall last night to join the campaign to save children's services at Pilgrim Hospital in Boston.
Many had travelled from all along the coast and the Boston area for the extraordinary meeting of Skegness Town Council, called to see what councillors could do to stop any decision being made by the United Lincolnshire Hospital NHS Trust (ULHT) to move children's services to Lincoln Hospital.
The peaceful protest, organised by Labour Party members, started quietly with almost more police officers than protestors. However, support grew just before the start of the meeting, with protestors waving 'Save Our NHS' placards in time for the arrival of Boston and Skegness MP Matt Warman. 'Do you want to chant at me or shall we go inside and talk about this?' he asked.
Before his arrival, one of the protestors, Tony Cox of Anderby, said he was there because he feared for his grandchildren. "I'm disappointed with this government running down the NHS - the big fear is it's going to be privatised. We want a united strong message sent to ULHT that we are not prepared to let facilities be taken from us."
Mayor of Skegness Coun Danny Brookes, who called the meeting, said: "It's a grave situation when they (ULHT) are talking about cutting our children's wards and cutting our hospital services and so we are meeting to see what we can do."
Inside the meeting, the council was joined by not only by MP Matt Warman but also Samantha Millbank, Accountable Officer Lincolnshire East CCG and Tracey Pilcher, Chief Nurse at Lincolnshire East CCG, who stressed they were not the service providers. There was disappointment from councillors and the packed gallery that the service providers, ULHT, were not present.
However, there was a united message from the top table - that no-one wanted to see services cut and it was 'not a done deal'. Samantha Millbank said: "We are not the service providers and any decisions are not taken by us.
"Our role is of commissioners for a safe and sustainable service. We have a shared concern about pediatrics but we don't want to see any temporary closure - we want to see dedicated skilled staff and a safe service there. We are working closely with the Trust and the staffing shows gaps in the service and around the nursing side.
"We are here so we can feed back your concerns.."
Tracey Pilcher said: "The service doesn't meet national standards, Part of the problem is we don't train pediatric nurses in the county. We are trying to rectify this by looking at new ways of working but this is the challenge."
Mr Warman said, as taxpayers paying for the NHS, everyone was entitled to a high quality, safe service that is close to home. "For me that's keeping the pediatric ward at Pilgrim Hospital open. It isn't about cost - keeping the service as it is is the cheapest option.
"In the long-term, the new medical school for Lincolnshire will help achieve this and this is one of the positives we have achieved. We need to focus on recruitment and training."
Coun Tony Howard of Mablethorpe received applause after stressing the hardships faced by villages along the coast accessing hospital care. "The best option hasn't even been discussed. I remember Pilgrim Hospital being built and it was an ambitious plan to serve Boston and the surrounding area. The ambition seems to have disappeared. We are now 40 years on. The ULHT needs to cut out the need to travel."
Philip Bosworth, of Boston Pressure Group, was accused of being scaremongering when he suggested the possible introduction Accountable Care Organisations (ACO) would see residents having to pay for care. "If you can't afford it you will have to wait. I have grandchildren and it worries me stiff."
However, Mr Warman said: "There are no plans by any of the three major parties to introduce insurance for health care. We are absolutely committed to a NHS that is free."
The debate went on for over an hour resulting in a motion by Skegness Town Council to write strong letters of concern to everyone involved in the decision on the future of children's services at Pilgrim Hospital - including Health Minister Jeremy Hunt, the ULHT, the CCG and Mr Warman.
After the meeting Mr Warman said: "What we saw tonight was a very powerful demonstration of how passionate people are in Skegness and way beyond about keeping the best possible service in Boston. As I said, it is not a done deal that has been made and we need to make sure we do everything we can in the short term to get over this point.
"The more we hear from people how much they value the service the better - and they can do that my writing to me, the ULHT or the CCG.
"Ultimately we need to attract more people to work in Lincolnshire . A lot of that is talking about what a great place it is to live, about the cost of living and great schools.
"We need to sell Llincolnshire so that people understand why they should work at Pilgrim and Lincoln and across the Trust."