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Thousands march to defend Glenfield heart centre
Charles Wheeler, Leicester Socialist Party
"Do not be debilitated by those who tell you protests and marches don't mean anything," Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey told Glenfield Children's Heart Unit campaigners.
Despite snow and freezing temperatures, 2,000 people - including patients and their families, trade unionists and members of the public - took to the streets of Leicester on 11 February in the second march against the proposed closure of the unit in four months.
NHS England has insisted the plans have nothing to do with cuts. But a recent "outstanding" rating by inspectors, adding to years of consistent praise for the centre, shows that their proposal does not make sense. The heart unit is on target to meet 'standards' - the targets set by NHS England.
But the public hasn't been fooled. Support for the campaign has grown.
Jess Whitehouse, holding her baby Elijah as she spoke, explained that her son was the youngest person ever to knock on the door of number 10 Downing Street when the 130,000 strong petition was delivered last week. "Without Glenfield he would not be alive today," she said.
Ashma Fozdar, aunt of Glenfield patient Umayma, reminded the crowd that "it is our NHS. We pay for it. We're the stakeholders, so we have a say." Every speaker showed the public willingness to fight to protect NHS services.
The Socialist Party argues that the closure of Glenfield children's heart unit cannot be disconnected from the attacks on NHS services across the country by this government. Campaigners collected 70 names of people wanting to go to the national demo to save the NHS on 4 March.
Leicester Socialist Party's Steve Score, whose teenage son was treated at Glenfield, closed the rally, saying: "We will not accept this. We will fight to the end, and we will win!"
A public consultation on the closure plans has started, but there will be just one official public meeting in Leicester during the process, at 5pm on 9 March in a room at the Tigers' Welford Road Stadium. We intend to fill it and surround it with more people protesting outside.
- You can watch the speeches from Saturday's rally on Leicester Socialist Party's Twitter, @LeicsSocialists