PARENTS, nurses and MPs joined together to take part in a demonstration against the ending of children’s heart surgery at a hospital.
Thousands of people gathered in Millennium Square, Leeds, to protest at the proposal to end paediatric heart surgery at Leeds General Infirmary.
They included a large group from Huddersfield – many of them children holding special placards and banners.
They had travelled over to join the protest on the eve of a crucial meeting.
Leaders of the campaign to save the threatened specialist unit and MPs are meeting today.
They will come face to face with a health watchdog representing 15 councils across the Yorkshire and Humber region who will meet in Leeds to review the decision.
The Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee will consider a range of evidence to help it determine whether or not the decision is in the interest of health services across the region.
If not, the Scrutiny Committee can refer the matter to Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, who would make a final decision.
The facility at Leeds was one of three specialist units earmarked for closure following a review of children’s heart services.
The NHS review decided having 10 units carrying out children’s heart surgery spread expertise too thin.
But campaigners say the closure of the Leeds unit would leave a population of 14 million people having to travel from Yorkshire and Lincolnshire to Newcastle, Liverpool and Birmingham for treatment.
Huddersfield mum Gaynor Bearder, who saw her son Joel saved by the Leeds unit, said: “The protest was amazing. There were something like 3,000 there and we had a big group from Huddersfield.
“The message has gone out loud and clear: we will not be moved.”
There was a similar message from Sharon Cheung, director of the Children’s Heart Surgery Fund, who said around 3,000 people had taken part in the demonstration.
She said: “I’m overwhelmed basically by the strength of the turnout and the families and the patients. We’ve had people join us who are not connected to the unit, which speaks volumes.”
Demonstrators wore Children’s Heart Surgery Fund T-shirts and held banners and signs reading “SOS Save Our Surgery” and “Don’t Break My Heart” as they gathered before a march around Leeds city centre.
They cheered in the sunshine as speakers stood on the steps of Leeds Civic Hall and rallied the crowds.
MPs Jason McCartney, Stuart Andrew, Hilary Benn, Greg Mulholland and Ed Balls were among those taking part in the march.
A group of nurses joined the speaker on the steps with banners, which read: “Proud to deliver gold standard care” and “467 years of combined cardiac nursing experience lost”.
One nurse, addressing the crowd, described the proposed closure as a “fundamentally flawed decision which has ignored the voices of Yorkshire families”.