THE STREETS of Stafford were packed again today as thousands of people met in the market square for the second Support Stafford Hospital march.
Campaigners opposing plans by administrators at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust to strip maternity and paediatric services from Stafford Hospital, gathered in the town centre to protest the plans by marching through the town to the Weston Road hospital.
Talking to the Newsletter, Support Stafford Hospital's Rowan Draper said: "Stafford deserves better, and it needs its community to fight for its hospital.
"Government and commissioners need to know our priorities for our acute services and for our health services.
"Todays march needs to demonstrate that we will not go meekly into the night, that we are not something to be rolled over and that we will fight to defend our hospital."
Joined by a host of civic leaders - including Stafford Borough Council leader Mike Heenan, Bishop of Stafford the Reverend Geoff Annas and Stafford MP Jeremy Lefroy - members of the public walked through the town led by young musicians from local marching bands.
Some carried placards and banners bearing messages of support for hospital staff, while others reflected their anger at the administrator's proposals.
Members of staff came out in force too - with midwives and support staff from the maternity department marching alongside their children to show their support for the campaign, wearing specially printed T Shirts bearing slogans including 'push to save Stafford Hospital' and 'proud to be born at Stafford Hospital'.
Once at the grounds campaigners heard speeches from members of Support Stafford Hospital, Jeremy Lefroy, Mike Heenan and Geoff Annas, with workers from the trust taking to the stage to rapturous applause from the crowd.
The crowd also heard perfomances from local singers including Clare Palmer, whose protest song 50,000 People Can't Be Wrong hit the download charts after the first Support Stafford Hospital march in April.
Speaking afterwards chief executive at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Maggie Oldham thanked the organisers for the time, energy and resources they had invested in making the march 'a happy and safe occasion'.
“Also I would like to say a big thank you to all of the children and to everyone else who has taken part," she said.
"It means a great deal to staff to witness the strength of local feeling and the widespread support for the hospital.”
Speaking to the Newsletter after the march Cheryl Porter of Support Stafford Hospital, admitted she was exhausted but said she would not give up fighting.
"The sun came out on us again and I have to say it shines on the righteous, because we are right, we're right in wanting our hospital and we're right in wanting our NHS.
We weren't expecting that today," she said. "Everybody was just so lovely.
"Jeremy Lefroy gave a wonderful speech, Mike Heenan went on the stage and said the borough council held three votes over its response to the recommendations and they had all been unanimous. He said that had never happened before over three consecutive votes.
"The Bishop of Stafford gave an amazing speech too and then we had all the staff on the stage too, it was just lovely, and it was humbling, honestly humbling."
Mrs Porter said the campaign group would not be resting on its laurels and would be rising early the next day to travel to Manchester to join the North West TUC's Save Our NHS rally to tell other NHS campaigners what was happening in Stafford.
"I don't think everyone else realises what's coming to them," she said. "If they realised they would all be standing up with us, because it's going to be their hospital next.
"We're not giving up," said Mrs Porter. "We're not walking away from this because if we do they have won and they can't win because this is our hospital and this is our NHS. We have got to stay strong."
We will have more photos from the march in the coming days.