CAMPAIGNERS are celebrating a landmark victory after NHS bosses voted to keep community health services - including Stroud General Hospital - in the public sector.

NHS Gloucestershire's board members unanimously voted to retain eight community hospitals, nine health clinics and 3,000 staff within the NHS at a meeting on Monday morning.

They agreed to seek the formation of a new standalone NHS trust to manage services - rejecting the alternative option of a tendering process, which would have opened the way for private firms to bid for services.

NHS supporters, who have fought an 18 month anti-privatisation campaign, attended the meeting at NHS Gloucestershire's HQ in Brockworth and welcomed the decision with loud applause.

Caroline Molloy, of Stroud Against the Cuts and a co-ordinator of the Keep Gloucestershire's NHS public campaign, said: "This is a triumph of people power and this is the outcome we have worked for from the start."

Former Stroud MP David Drew said 'common sense' had prevailed, while campaigner Michael Lloyd, 76, - whose high court challenge in February forced the PCT to abandon its plans to transfer services to a social enterprise, said he was 'delighted'.

"Market forces have their place in society but they are not appropriate when it comes to the delivery of healthcare and public services," he said.

More than 2,500 residents responded to a consultation on the future of health services  - with 96 per cent calling for services to be retained within the NHS.

A 6,530-strong petition and staff survey - in which 91 per cent of respondents backed the creation of a new trust - also demonstrated the overwhelming support for keeping services publicly-run.

Speaking after the meeting, NHS Gloucestershire chief executive Jan Stubbings said: "It is now time to look to the future and we are confident that everyone - staff, community partners and the public - will pull together to make sure that community support and local services are the best they can be." 

If final approval is given by the Department of Health, the new NHS trust will be created by April 1 next year.