Challenge issued to Jeremy Hunt at rally against NHS closures in Sheffield

More than 100 people braved the cold to join the rally
More than 100 people braved the cold to join the rally
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Campaigners fighting planned NHS closures in Sheffield today challenged health secretary Jeremy Hunt to meet those affected.

More than 100 people braved the cold this afternoon to join the Fighting for our NHS rally outside Sheffield City Hall, which was part of a national day of protest against cuts affecting the health service.

Demonstrators even co-opted Sheffield's famous Women of Steel to take up their cause

Demonstrators even co-opted Sheffield's famous Women of Steel to take up their cause

Controversial plans to close the city centre NHS Walk-in Centre and the Minor Injuries Unit at the Hallamshire Hospital unsurprisingly took centre stage at the demonstration, with speakers warning many patients would lose out.

READ MORE: Thousands respond to consultation on plans to close and move NHS services in Sheffield
But wider concerns were also voiced about government funding for the NHS, pressures faced by staff and the threat of 'creeping privatisation'.

More than 10,000 people have signed petitions opposing Sheffield NHS Clinical Commissioning Group's proposals to close the Broad Street walk-in centre and the minor injuries unit, and move both services to the Northern General Hospital.

READ MORE: Thousands sign petitions to stop closure of NHS walk-centre and minor injuries unit in Sheffield
Over 2,300 people, meanwhile, responded to the public consultation on changes to urgent care, which has now closed.

Speakers at the demonstration spoke to the pressures faced by many NHS workers

Speakers at the demonstration spoke to the pressures faced by many NHS workers

The CCG says the changes will simply services and free up money to improve access to same-day GP appointments

READ MORE: Rail passengers in Sheffield to be 'sold short again' with 30-year-old carriages, claims MP
But opponents argue the Northern General Hospital is already 'overloaded' and people in the south of the city would find it harder to access services there.

Addressing today's rally, Sheffield councillor Ben Curran, who is vying to become Labour's candidate for the Sheffield City Region mayoral election, said Britain spends a smaller percentage of its GDP on its health service than countries like Portugal and Italy, and the Government's own figures show there will be a £570 million shortfall by 2021 for health services in Sheffield.

"Mr Hunt, I want to challenge you to meet with me and the people fighting to keep the minor injuries unit open at the Hallamshire so you can hear from real people about what your government is doing to those services," he added, to cheers from those assembled.

He also praised NHS workers who had battled snow and ice in recent days to provide vital care in the city.

Sheffield health worker Rebecca Bryson told how many colleagues within the NHS felt 'taken for granted'.

Quoting one fellow NHS worker in Sheffield, she said: "We're at the end of our tether. I know a lot of nurses that have quit due to stress. The care we give isn't to the standard we want to as we're too overworked."

And Alison Brown, representing the Yorkshire Ambulance Service branch of Unison, said thousands of NHS workers were 'leaving the jobs the love' due to poor conditions, making it hard to fill posts.

"Six years of real-terms pay cuts is not good enough," she told those gathered.

"Give the NHS the funding it needs to value and care for its staff and allow them to work in a safe and supported way."

Campaigners plan to picket Sheffield NHS CCG's offices in Darnall on March 22, where committee members are due to meet to discuss the results of the urgent care consultation.