CAMPAIGNERS who managed to halt plans to transfer nine hospitals and 3,000 staff outside of the NHS vowed to continue their fight at a public meeting.

Addressing around 100 people at the Sub Rooms, Stroud on Thursday night, Michael Lloyd, 76, who spearheaded the recent legal challenge, said: "We have won the battle but we haven’t won the war."

Last month, NHS Gloucestershire reached an out of court settlement with solicitors acting for Mr Lloyd and agreed to scrap plans to transfer Stroud General Hospital and other community health services to a social enterprise and to look again at how services should be run.

Now Stroud Against the Cuts is warning that the transfer could still take place if people do not continue to make their voices heard.

They fear a full-scale private sector takeover of healthcare in the district.

SATC launched a pledge at the meeting calling for health managers to ‘Keep Gloucestershire’s NHS public’.

And speaking afterwards, SATC chairman James Beecher urged Stroud MP Neil Carmichael to put his name to it.

By signing the pledge, individuals commit themselves to do all they can to ensure hospitals and health services ‘remain fully in the NHS, publicly owned and accountable’.

"Local people have the right to be properly consulted on whether our health services stay in the NHS or not," said Mr Beecher.

"We note our local MP has called for local empowerment where it really matters in relation to our community health services so we are asking him to sign this pledge."

At the meeting Caroline Molloy of SATC said the NHS ‘did not belong to private companies, to political parties or to politicians.’ "It belongs to the people," she said.

Mr Carmichael was unable to attend the meeting but sent his apologies and an email saying he had held a meeting with government ministers including health secretary Andrew Lansley to discuss the issue.

Speaking to the SNJ, Mr Carmichael said he could not sign the pledge until he had had time to thoroughly inspect it.

He did, however, state his belief that services should be put out to tender.

"The Department of Health's advice based on the outcome of the High Court contest is that a tender is necessary to identify a suitable provider," he said.

That view is disputed by SATC, which says a tender is unnecessary so long as an NHS body comes forward to run services.

Also absent on the night was shadow health secretary Andy Burnham and shadow health minister Diane Abbott, who were widely expected to attend.

The pair cancelled their visit because their presence was required at a hearing on the Health and Social Care Bill.

Mr Burnham sent a message saying he ‘applauded’ the campaigners.

Michael Lloyd finished his address by saying: "Of course the NHS is not perfect, no system is perfect.

"But there is absolutely no need to take it to bits. Healthcare does not belong to the market place."