ABOUT 2,000 people marched in protest at plans to cut beds at the new Townlands Hospital.
ABOUT 2,000 people marched in protest at plans to cut beds at the new Townlands Hospital.
Protesters took to the streets on Saturday in a show of strength against plans by the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group to cut the number of beds at the hospital from 18 to five.
They set off from Market Place at 10am and walked down Bell Street, New Street, Thames Side and Hart Street in the sunshine before returning to the town hall for speeches.
Led by the Mayor of Henley, Lorraine Hillier, people held banners and placards bearing the logo of the Henley Standard’s Save Our Beds campaign.
Some carried homemade placards while old ones from the last march 10 years ago — when Townlands was under threat of closure — were reused, which included the original “Save Townlands Hospital” banner which had “beds” stickers attached to it.
Town and district councillor Stefan Gawrysiak, who sits on the Townlands Steering Group, led the chants of “save our beds” throughout the march. The crowd also chanted “how many beds do we want? 18. When do we want them? Now,” while cars honked their horns in support.
The line was so long that at several stages there were three separate chants by the front, middle and back because each section couldn’t hear what the other one was shouting.
Many residents watched from their windows as the march processed past their homes, while others passing by joined the protesters along various parts of the route.
Along with residents from the town and surrounding villages there were also members of the town council at the march along with GPs, Mayoress Susan George, Lady McAlpine, who lives at Fawley Hill with husband Sir William and musician Mike Hurst, who lives in Park Corner.
District councillor Joan Bland, who owns Asquiths teddy bear shop, placed one of her bandaged up cuddly toys in a hospital bed outside her shop in New Street.
The turnout was so big that the Mayor had to delay her speech after reaching the town hall because some protesters were still at the other end of Hart Street. There were also speeches from Ian Reissmann, chairman of the Townlands Steering Group, county councillor David Nimmo Smith, retired Henley GP Peter Ashby and Henley MP John Howell.
Dr Ashby held a placard during the march criticising the architects of the plan to cut the beds which read: “Burnett, Smith, Furness, McGrane have come to take our beds again.”
Residents spoke of their dismay and anger over plans to cut beds at the new Townlands hospital.
Many also told the Henley Standard they believed the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group had made up its mind and would not reverse its plans.
Pauline Buckett, the widow of former Henley mayor Terry Buckett, said she wanted to fulfil a promise made to her late husband to fight on until the hospital was built.
Mr Buckett, who died in 2009 aged 56 after a battle with cancer, fought tirelessly for the new hospital.
Mrs Buckett, who was accompanied by her son Lee and grandson Harrison, three, on Saturday said: “At that time we were promised the beds and I haven’t fulfilled my promise to him until it happens.
“Terry’s here in spirit because my grandson’s wearing his ‘Save Townlands Hospital’ hat. I’m finding it quite emotional. I want to see it through and I want to get these beds.
“They always use all these big words. Right from the start I’ve never trusted them — I never will — until we get what we want.”
Mrs Buckett, a former town councillor, added: “We will not go without a fight— we won’t give up. I personally won’t give up and that’s a message not just to the commissioning group but to the town councillors as well.”
Robert Aitken, of Lower Assendon, who attended with his wife Jane, said: “This is all about the surrounding villages as well. We’re marching to keep the beds and because it’s been an inadequate consultation. It hasn’t proved its case in any shape or form.”
Town councillor David Eggleton said the town needs answers. He said: “The message we need to send out to them is even though we’ve had all these meetings and questions have been asked on both sides no one’s actually had a clear answer as to why it’s happened and why we’re demonstrating.”
Paula Dillingham, of Pack and Prime Lane, Henley, said: “My husband’s mother died in Townlands and they looked after her so carefully it was a wonderful, dignified way to die. A smart new hospital without beds is like a pub with no beer.”
Jean Wiltshire said: “I had my son in Townlands 58 years ago — it’s our hospital. We’re individuals and we know what we want.”
Raymond Benns, who worked at Townlands for 29 years as a porter, added: “I think it’s disgusting because we were promised a brand new hospital and now they only want us to have five beds.”
Natalie Bird, eight, sister Charlotte, 10 and friend Sarah Morton, also 10, from Henley, made their own posters and took part in the march.
Natalie said: “It’s important because we need more beds,” while her sister added: “I think it’s horrendous that they don’t have enough.”
Sheila Green, 78, of Nicholas Road, Henley said: “I come from a family of a lot of nurses. I’m committed to that hospital, my two boys were born there.”
She said her husband David had also died at Townlands seven years ago, adding: “Quite honestly that belongs to us — we should be able to have a say.”
Audrey Richardson, a retired physiotherapist, of Wootton Road, Henley, said: “I’m marching because we have been fighting for 30 years for this hospital. We lost the War Memorial hospital, which the people of Henley raised funding for. That money should have come to Townlands but it disappeared.
“What they are proposing now isn’t even a hospital. You can’t treat people who are seriously ill with ambulatory care. It’s vital we have this hospital.”
Cleone Auger, of Hart Street, said: “I don’t think enough attention has been given to the care that is needed for the people who will need hospital beds. There doesn’t seem to be a convincing transitional plan with the right support and quite frankly I don’t trust them.
“It’s not just beds for people in Henley — we take people from all areas. Don’t tell me that five beds is going to be enough. It’s a farce and I feel very strongly about it.”
Lady Catherine Stewart, a former GP, said: “I have come down from London because I think it’s so important for the people of Henley that they are supported. I can’t believe it could happen. It’s probably the most important issue in the town for the last 20 years. If it starts without the beds eventually the whole place will close down.”
Billy Pinches, of Meadows Farm, Henley, added: “My father was in Townlands and I can’t speak highly enough about the hospital and staff — we need it. We’ve got to keep battling on. Townlands is the jewel of Henley, they even let my father’s dogs in to see him. No. 10 is where we are going next.”
Helen Woods-Ballard, 76, Baskerville Lane, Shiplake, said: “In the past five years many of my friends haven’t been able to get into Townlands but would have benefited hugely from the intermediary care for which it is first-rate.
“Treating people in Henley will cost a fraction of what it would cost to send people to Reading or Oxford. It’s ridiculous to say that it will save money.”
John Huntley, 81, of Swiss Farm, Henley, said: “This protest is very important. We’ve got to change their minds. They’ve said it will be a hospital but you haven’t got that if you haven’t got beds.
“The fact that Peppard Ward is full while Henley residents wait at the John Radcliffe or Royal Berkshire hospitals proves we need them. We desperately need a hospital in the full sense of the word — without beds it’s just a clinic.” Caroline Thompson, 56, of Rotherfield Road, Henley, said: “Our local surgeries are up in arms about it and I felt we should be supporting them. Townlands is a wonderful local hospital that is well-used.”
Lady McAlpine, who lives at Fawley Hill, said: “It’s terribly important — we need small local hospitals run by GPs who know the patients and their needs. They have the local community helping to run them, looking after the day rooms or doing the tea trolley.
“There are a lot of people round here whose children were born in that hospital and that’s how it should be. It’s brilliant to see so many people.”
Mary Romanos, 84, of Market Place, Henley, said: “When the commissioning group have been asked questions they gloss over the issues. They should listen to the doctors who spoke at the meetings. The beds have always been full. I don’t think people can be looked after properly at home.”
Dilys Smith, of Western Road, Henley, added: “We need our hospital, I am 89 and I do not want to be sent to Abingdon or Oxford. I was a nurse at Townlands. A hospital without a ward with beds can’t happen.”
Duncan Birrell, 66, of Gainsborough Hill, Henley, added: “We need that hospital to have beds in it. What they say at all the meetings is a load of drivel — that’s why the march had to happen. We have to show we don’t support what they are doing. We will carry on opposing it anyway. Now they will know how the people of the town feel.”