18 March 2017
Nearly two thousand doctors, nurses, patients, family members and other campaigners marched along Chelsea’s famous Kings’ Road on Saturday to protest against NHS England plans to decommission congenital heart disease services at Royal Brompton Hospital.
Despite being organised as a protest, the march had a positive atmosphere that was as much a celebration of the ground breaking services Royal Brompton provides as it was a call for NHS England and health secretary Jeremy Hunt not to tear them apart.
The carnival-like atmosphere was enhanced by the presence of the official Olympic drumming band, accompanied by supporters on drums and whistles, and chants from the crowd of “Brompton patients matter” and “Hell no, we won’t go!”. Hundreds of people also wore the official red campaign t-shirts, with other protesters also wearing red in a striking display of solidarity.
Trudy Nickels of Brompton Fountain, one of the charities behind the event, said that the march was the biggest event of its kind she or any of her partner charities had experienced. “That so many people have given up their Saturdays to protest against these nonsensical plans just shows how passionately everyone values the world-class care that Royal Brompton provides”.
Sally Morgan, Baroness Morgan of Huyton, chair of Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust, was the first of a number of speakers to give rousing speeches that stirred up the crowd before the march. She was followed on the podium by Dr Mike Rigby, consultant paediatric cardiologist at Royal Brompton, and by local MP Greg Hands, whose promise to take the issue directly to the health minister in charge of hospital care was greeted with cheers from the crowd.
However, the biggest cheer of the day was saved for legendary former speaker of the House of Commons, Baroness Betty Boothroyd, who concluded a passionate speech by telling NHS England “get your meddling hands off our hospital”.
It was then left to Trudy and Gill Raikes, chief executive of the Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospitals Charity (who also helped organise the march) to give the countdown that sent demonstrators off on the two kilometre route around Chelsea.
Taking place during the same week in which over 20 MPs publicly called for NHS England’s plans to be blocked, the march adds yet more pressure to NHS England and health secretary Jeremy Hunt to overturn NHS England’s plans to decommission services.
Elizabeth Henderson of the charity Friends of Royal Brompton, who also helped organised the march, said that they can expect yet more pressure to come. “NHS England’s plans will force over 12,5000 CHD patients to find care elsewhere, will destroy Royal Brompton’s world-leading CHD research unit, and will force the closure other services such as cystic fibrosis and difficult asthma. Yet for all this upheaval, NHS England simply cannot explain how these plans will make things better for patients.
“We are therefore determined to keep campaigning until these ridiculous plans are dropped”.
Campaign supporters are now being encouraged to make their voices heard by responding to NHS England’s public consultation on the issue. Advice on how to do this can be found on the website of the Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospitals Charity.