RESIDENTS are being urged to take part in a march in Henley tomorrow (Saturday) to save 18 beds at the new Townlands Hospital
RESIDENTS are being urged to take part in a march in Henley tomorrow (Saturday) to save 18 beds at the new Townlands Hospital.
Campaigners want as many people as possible to join the public protest at plans by health chiefs to cut the number of beds to just five.
The march will set off from Market Place at 10am and go along Bell Street, New Street, Thames Side and Hart Street before returning to the town hall for speeches. There will be temporary road closures in place and the event should be finished by 11.30am.
Among those present will be patients, staff, GPs, the Mayor and other town councillors and Henley MP John Howell.
The protest comes after residents called for stronger action if the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group did not change its plans for the new £16million ?health campus?.
Originally, it was planned to have 18 beds at the new hospital, four more than on the existing Peppard ward, but this has now been changed to five in a care home to be built next to the hospital.
This would leave Townlands without any beds for at least six months when the current hospital is demolished in November.
The march comes 10 years after more than 4,000 people took part in a march in the town in protest at plans to close the hospital.
Councillor Ian Reissmann, chairman of the Townlands Steering Group, said the new hospital would have a catchment population of 90,000 and affect people from as far as Caversham, Wargrave and Sonning Common as well as smaller villages.
He said: ?To the people of Henley and the wider area I want to say, ?please come and add your voice tomorrow?. We need as many people as possible to get across the message that we oppose these plans and want the original proposals stuck to.
?In 2005 we had 4,500 people and I?d like to see as many as that this time because the more people we get the more we can dismiss the commissioning group?s claim that the community supports and welcomes these plans.
?I think people care just as much as they did in 2005 and it?s equally important. I very much hope we get a clear message across.
?The steering group will do everything it can to halt or reverse the plans. We want to see the best care for patients.?
Cllr Reissmann praised the Henley Standard?s Save Our Beds campaign, which was launched in May and included a petition that was signed by more than 3,000 people.
He said: ?The Henley Standard has given some great publicity and been very helpful in getting people to understand what the plans are.?
Mayor Lorraine Hillier said: ?We need as many people as possible to turn up for the march because we need their support to be able to change the commissioning group?s view. It?s important to have lots of people there offering support and holding placards.
?It?s a nice, steady march through the town and anyone is welcome to join in at any point. If you can only walk a bit of the way then that?s fine, just turn up.
?Without the support of the people we have got a hard fight ahead of us. This march is very important stage in trying to return the beds.
?Hopefully, we can achieve the result we want for the people of Henley and the wider district.?
Former Henley GP Peter Ashby, who is a member of the steering group and took part in the previous march, said: ?We need a big turnout.
?I know it?s a difficult time of year but if we only have a few hundred people the commissioning group will rub their hands in glee and think they?ve won the battle.
?If we have 3,000 or 4,000 people or more then it will make our views more than clear because we have to continue to take the commissioning group on.
?This isn?t just Henley-centred ? people in Peppard, Caversham, Wargrave, Remenham and Sonning Common will all use this hospital in the future.?
The commissioning group wants to replace the beds with a next-day ?rapid access care unit? in order for patients to be treated at home where possible but this will only be open three days a week.
A five-week public consultation on the plans ended on June 15 and the results are due to be presented to the commissioning group?s board at a meeting on July 30.
The steering group has challenged the consultation, claiming it was ?flawed?.
Dr Ashby said: ?We are fighting to regain the situation we had where we were promised a bedded hospital with services.
?Our unhappiness is because the commissioning group, without prior consultation, had made the decision to go ahead with an unbedded hospital and only then consulted us.
?They failed to take on board our suggestions and our unhappiness with what they were doing. We are concerned this is going to lead to a failed experiment and we will be left with an emergency unit which can?t admit people to hospital, meaning they will have to go off to Reading or Oxford.
?If it doesn?t work they might just decide to sell off the hospital and we would end up without one at all. There?s a real danger for the future of the hospital if they put in a failed experiment.?
Mr Howell, who has declined to comment on the consultation until after the results are made public, will not be giving a speech at the march.
However, he has had a meeting with David Smith, chief executive of the commissioning group.
He said: ?What I raised with him was particularly the strategic context of the consultation. There will be a meeting with the MPs concerned to discuss these plans as a collective group.?