Dozens of angry campaigners who fear the “vital” Marlow Community Hospital will close vowed not to give up fighting as they protested against bed closures last night.
The demonstration comes after the Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust started a controversial six-month pilot scheme at both Marlow and Thame hospitals which sees a total of 20 inpatient beds go unused.
Marlow residents, healthcare campaigners, district councillors and community figures came together outside the Victoria Road hospital to chant “hand back our hospitals” in protest against the downgrades of the county’s hospitals.
Concerned campaigners fear the “valuable” hospital will close following the six-month pilot – a claim that has been fiercely denied by the Trust.
Ozma Hafiz, who is leading the campaign, said residents had been “let down” and urged them to make a stand against the funding cuts that had forced the hospital to be downgraded.
She said: “The hospital is a very important place within the community but this affects all of us, whether we are from Marlow, Aylesbury or Oxford.
“The fight is only just beginning – I am not going to give up because we owe it to the people who have spent their time campaigning in the past.”
Denis Leavey, a Marlow resident of 50 years, said he joined the protest because he has seen the good work it has done for patients in the past.
He said: “I have been involved as a supporter of the hospital for the best part of 50 years and I think this is the fourth or fifth time they have tried to close it.
"I am involved in Age Concern and taking people to and from the doctors and hospitals and I know how vital this is to everybody in the town.”
Under the new pilot, patients who would otherwise stay in the hospital will instead be treated at home where possible, or arrangements will be made for them to be admitted elsewhere, possibly in care homes.
John Laker, who used to live just minutes away from the hospital on Glade Road, praised the “great turnout” at the protest for the “essential” hospital.
A statement from Marlow Town Council said the provision of extra services at the hospital was "interesting" but said there did not seem to be any form of consultation taking place.
It said: "During the six month trial period, we understand that the use of Marlow Community Hospital as a bedded unit for mainly convalescence patients will be discontinued.
"We regret the loss of this facility which is well used by Marlow and other residents.
"The provision of alternative services in the hospital is interesting, but there does not appear to be any formal consultation taking place during the pilot period.
"We would expect the Health Trust to consult widely when their final proposals are available."
Andrew Smart, spokesman for Bucks Healthcare Trust said: “We wish to reiterate once again that we are not seeking to close Marlow Hospital.
“This is a pilot project informed by what we have heard from the local community during our engagement over the past year and the plans have been developed by clinical staff and local GPs, supported by the hospital League of Friends and voluntary service organisations.
“We are committed to talking with patients, community groups, and the public. We will seek feedback and review from clinicians and GPs, quickly responding and adapting if we are not demonstrating improvements for our patients.
“We will be providing regular public updates and we will be asking patients and carers about their experiences of these new services. This will help inform our final proposals.
“Better, safer healthcare is a priority for all of us, and we are confident that these developments will deliver real benefits to the communities we serve.”