PLACARDS were waved and signs held high as the community rallied together under one banner – ‘Keep Stroud Minor Injuries Unit open’.

More than 70 people joined together outside Stroud General Hospital on Monday evening to condemn the planned changes to end the unit’s 24 hour service.

Campaigners, residents, patients and councillors of different political colours spoke in one voice to demand a rethink of NHS bosses’ controversial proposals and oppose cuts to local health services.

Gloucestershire Care Services NHS Trust is currently carrying out a review into the county’s seven Minor Injury and Illness Units (MIIU).

As part of the changes, people in Stroud have been given three official options on how they want the service in Trinity Road’s opening hours to look in the future.

However, none of these choices would see the MIIU stay open past 11pm – meaning patients in need of urgent care overnight would have to travel to Gloucester instead.

NHS bosses in Gloucestershire says the changes are necessary as the current model of overnight care is regularly underused and economically unsustainable.

It argues the changes will allow for easier nurse recruitment and provide value for money – while stressing the changes are “not about cost-cutting”.

But the overhaul has been met with dismay from many in the community who see the loss of out-of-hours care as the gradual dwindling of NHS services in Stroud and beyond.

They say the changes are being made in a bid to save money and have been forced due to a chronic failure to recruit enough nurses.

They are calling for a fourth option to be included in the public consultation which would see the out-of-hours service retained.

“The proposed cuts in opening hours at MIIUs in Gloucestershire including Stroud are the latest example of government attacks on our healthcare services,” said James Beecher of Stroud Against the Cuts.

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“That these decisions are being taken by local Clinical Commissioning Groups undermines the principles of universal and comprehensive care.

“We don’t want to worsen postcode lotteries where not only the quality but what you can access on the NHS is different in different areas but that is where we’re headed.

“Cutting the opening hours of Minor Injuries Units – as we face here in Stroud – also goes against these principles. It is important that urgent care is available when it is needed, which could be at any time.

“Yes, fewer people use these services in the middle of the night but the point of a universal service is to include everyone, not just those who happen to be affected by an injury or illness at a particular time of day.”

Doina Cornell is Labour district councillor for Dursley and SDC’s representative on the county council’s Health & Social Care Scrutiny Committee.

“Stroud’s MIIU is a precious service for our community, but must ensure it stays open 24 hours a day so that people can get care when they need it,” she said.

“This move is just on piece of a bigger jigsaw of what is happening to our NHS.

“Next month I’ll be putting our concerns in front of county health chiefs and Tory councillors at a meeting in Gloucester.

“I shall speak for the majority of people in Stroud in demanding Stroud’s MIU remains open. In the meantime I’d encourage everyone to sign the Labour Party’s petition against the changes.”

The rally was attended with cross-party support, with speakers from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.

Amongst the Stroud councillors was Cirencester’s Lib Dem county councillor Joe Harris, who is fighting to save his hospital’s MIIU from the same fate.

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He has collected 1,500 signatures on a similar petition to “Keep Cirencester Hospital open overnight”.

“This is about money. That’s the bottom line here,” he said “These changes will have a negative effect on vulnerable people who struggle to get around –particularly the elderly and people in rural areas.

“One resident told me the other day that due to staff shortages at the hospital she had to pay £70 for a taxi to Gloucester. Is this the kind of system we want?

“Closing existing MIIU’s overnight will only put more pressure on already struggling A&E services elsewhere in the county, particular Gloucestershire Royal.”

Mr Beecher added that the removal of out-of-hours care from Stroud is “just one piece of a larger attack” on the principals of NHS services.

“This isn’t just about Minor Injuries Units, it isn’t about whether they close at 11pm or 8pm and it isn’t just about Stroud,” he said.

“We’ve got to lay down a marker and say that withdrawing 24 hour opening hours at Stroud and Cirencester is unacceptable.

“But we must also make it clear that this is the result of government attacks on our healthcare services – and can’t simply be solved locally.

“Services must have enough well-trained staff to provide high-quality care but the government seems intent on making staff shortages worse with pay cuts, and the scrapping of nurse training bursaries.

“Cheltenham A&E was downgraded overnight in 2013 due to a shortage of Emergency Doctors, and the government has responded by imposing a new contract on junior doctors that is widely predicted to make this shortage worse.

“Local health bosses are also currently working behind closed doors on their ‘Sustainability and Transformation plan’ to deliver Gloucestershire’s share of £22 billion of cuts.

“Because of this we take the opportunity now to say we fear for the future of local healthcare services.

“We’re holding this rally not only to challenge the MIIU changes across the county but to highlight the crisis the government is causing in the NHS and to begin organising to resist the dramatic changes to come.”

Sarah Lunnon, Green Party council councillor for Stroud, agreed, saying the plans for overnight closures of Gloucestershire’s MIIUs were another example of central government cuts hitting communities.

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"The proposals to downgrade Stroud's and other Minor Injury Units across the county are a direct result of six years of the failed austerity project,” she said.

“Children's centres, magistrates courts, post offices and now our hospital services.

“The last time Stroud hospital was threatened residents took to the street, I doubt this time will be any different. To protect what we cherish we have to make our voices heard.”

Stroud Constituency Labour Party’s vice-chair Debbie Hicks organised the petition, which has now gathered over 1500 signatures, online and on paper.

She said like countless others in Stroud, she and her family have previously relied on the MIIU for emergency care.

“I am really angry at what is happening to our NHS and I am terrified at what health service my son is going to grow up into,” she said.

“This is a local service that local people rely on heavily. We must do all we can to make sure patients in Stroud have access to care 24 hours a day.”

The first option in the review involves changing all seven of the county’s MIUs’ opening hours to 8am-8pm, while option two and three would see Stroud MIU close from 11pm to 8am.

Stroud League of Friends are recommending option two, which would keep Stroud MIIU open from 8am until 11pm.

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In its review document the Trust says “on-going challenges to fulfilling the current MIIU opening hours are impacting upon the Trust’s ability to consistently deliver high quality, safe services.

“These challenges mean that the current levels of MIIU service can no longer be provided.

“This review is not about cost-cutting, as each option requires additional investment of between £210,000 and £460,000.

“Rather, it is intended to ensure the best quality, consistent MIIU service for the people of Gloucestershire.”

It says there are four reasons the review is needed: nurse recruitment, value for money, making sure people go the right place for care and ensuring there are recognisable opening times.

Paul Jennings, Chief Executive at Gloucestershire Care Services NHS Trust, said: “We have been open from the outset of this engagement process that retaining 24 hour opening at the MIIU in Stroud is not a viable option as the number of people using the unit overnight is very low and the night shift is difficult to recruit staff for.

“We have also been clear that all of our proposed options involve an investment in our MIIUs as a result of increased staffing levels on shifts, so this is not an exercise in cost-cutting.

“Through the engagement exercise we have had worthwhile and constructive conversations with the public and other stakeholders about these proposals.

“That includes Stroud Against the Cuts, whose members have made valuable contributions at a number of our engagement events.

“Our engagement process will run until the end of August and we would like to thank everyone who has participated, and encourage anyone who wishes to have their say to take part.”

The Trust's consultation document can be viewed here.

Accountable officer at NHS Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group, Mary Hutton, said: “The rationale for these proposals, including safety, staffing and usage has been set out by Gloucestershire Care Services NHS Trust.

“A seven week engagement period is now well underway and we would encourage healthcare professionals, community partners, patients and the public to consider each of the interim options put forward by the Trust and to feedback their views by August 31.

“Any final decisions will need to take in to account work underway looking at the future shape of urgent care services across the county.”

Stroud’s Conservative MP Neil Carmichael said: “I have met with the Stroud Hospital League of Friends and expressed their and my concerns about opening hours to Gloucestershire Care Services.

“I would encourage all residents with an interest in this to make their own views known in the consultation.”

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A final decision will be made by the NHS Trust at its board meeting on September 20.

GCS say that feedback received will be compiled into an outcome report and used to inform a new operating model for MIIUs that will begin on October 1, 2016.

Gloucestershire’s MIIUs offer timely support to people with urgent, but not life-threatening, healthcare needs.

MIIUs provide care and treatment for sprains, cuts and wounds, skin problems such as rashes, bites, stings and infections, minor eye injuries, minor fractures, minor head injuries etc.