REDBRIDGE was out in full force this weekend as hundreds marched through Ilford to save its only A&E department from closing.
More than 300 people crowded Valentine’s Park for the Save King George Hospital A&E rally on Saturday afternoon (March 18).
Supporters from different communities, religions, and political parties joined campaigners on the one-mile march to the town hall in Ilford High Road.
A further 200 joined the protest there, crowding the main hall to hear speeches by council leader Jas Athwal, Ilford MPs Wes Streeting and Mike Gapes, Assembly Member Keith Prince, and Redbridge Conservative chief Paul Canal.
Four faith leaders also spoke out against the Government’s plans to close the Goodmayes A&E by 2019 and replace it with an “urgent care centre”.
Under the NHS’ Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) for north east London, patients in need of life-saving care will have to travel further to either Queen’s Hospital in Romford or Whipps Cross Hospital in Leytonstone to get it.
Health bosses have assured people the new 24-hour urgent care centre in Barley Lane will be able to deal with “many of the types of cases dealt with by the existing A&E”, but campaigners are determined the move is unsafe.
Ilford South MP congratulated site managers Barking Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust (BHRUT) on successfully getting rid of its “special measures” status.
But he said: “It is not time for the Government to help BHRUT make further improvements by lifting the absurd, damaging, and unrealisable threat of closure.
“With this impressive rally and my recent ministers with ministers and local NHS organisations, I am more confident than ever we can save our A&E at King George.”
His colleague in Ilford North, Wes Streeting, added: “The fantastic turnout really shows the strength of feeling from residents who are rightly concerned about the future of their local A&E.
“I really hope health managers and the Government pay attention and agree to look again at the plans with a fresh pair of eyes.”
Labour Roding Cllr Lloyd Duddridge said the 500-strong turnout showed Redbridge “at its best”.
He said: “The plan to close the A&E is 10 years out of date –it just doesn’t work for our borough in 2017."
Local NHS campaigner Andy Walker said other east London councils need to join Redbridge in presenting a united front against the closure.
He warned residents A&E waiting times at King George and Queen’s Hospital in Romford are still well below average, with an average of 78.3 per cent of patients seen within four hours compared with the 95 per cent national target.
He said: “The A&E must be saved.
“In 2011 the Department of Health assured us no changes would be made until improvements were made at nearby hospitals.
“They haven’t improved and still fall well below the safety threshold.
“The urgent centre will mean a huge reduction in services for residents and will damage local healthcare.”
Redbridge Conservative leader Cllr Paul Canal said the A&E "should be expanding not closing".
He told campaigners if it was not for the emergency department, three weeks ago a close friend of his would have died from a heart attack because Whipps Cross could not take her.
He said: “Rita is in no doubt that if King George A&E was already closed, she would not be here today.
“The case made to close the A&E was flawed in 2006 and 2009.
“Since then massive population growth and a huge surge in admissions have further undermined the flawed case for closure.”
Campaigners urged more residents to sign the Save King George A&E petition and to keep up to date via its Facebook page.