AROUND 100 protesters brandishing banners and placards rallied outside Stroud General Hospital on Saturday as part of the longstanding campaign to ‘Keep Gloucestershire’s NHS public’.

Campaigners from Stroud Against the Cuts, which organised the demonstration, were joined by Labour Party representatives and members of the public in calling for health services to remain within the NHS.

The anti-cuts pressure group is demanding that a standalone NHS Trust be set up to run community health services, including 3,000 staff and nine hospitals, which might otherwise be auctioned off to the private sector.

At the protest – one of a number of co-ordinated rallies taking place across the county – the results of a recent survey of Gloucestershire’s community health staff were announced.

The survey, conducted by NHS Gloucestershire, showed that 91 per cent of respondents favoured the formation of a standalone NHS Trust to run the county’s community health services.

A recent Freedom of Information request by Unite health sector member Hannah Basson has revealed that the health services in question do not need to be offered to private sector bidders if NHS Gloucestershire opts to create a standalone trust.

"It seems to me that the staff are best placed to know how the services should be run," said SATC member Caroline Molloy.

"We have been saying all along that services do not need to be put out to tender if NHS Gloucestershire chooses to pursue the option of a standalone NHS Trust."

Stroud MP Neil Carmichael said he supported forming a trust but warned that it might not be feasible.

"I am in favour of the community health trust option. I have made that clear from the very beginning," he said.

"It is a big challenge though. You have to go through various legal hoops and get ministerial approval.

"I think it is an option we should be promoting and I hope it can happen but I am not going to make promises I cannot keep."

Labour’s Parliamentary candidate David Drew said: "We were very pleased to hear that staff had voted overwhelmingly for a standalone NHS Trust and that is what we now want to see.

"The public need to keep the pressure up and say that these services need to remain a part of the NHS."

Health bosses at NHS Gloucestershire will decide in the autumn whether or not to pursue the Trust option.