A&E SOS campaigners gather at County Hall, Chichester

CAMPAIGNERS backing our campaign to safeguard accident and emergency services in Chichester and Worthing gathered outside County Hall, Chichester, today, (Friday December 5) ahead of a crunch health meeting.

The Observer’s A&E SOS petition has already been signed by more than 11,500 readers.

NHS campaigners at County Hall, Chichester, Friday, December 5

NHS campaigners at County Hall, Chichester, Friday, December 5

And combined with our sister papers in the Herald series, which are running a similar campaign for Worthing Hospital, that figure is now close to 20,000.

It has been a quite phenomenal response since we broke the news that a £235m musculoskeletal (MSK) contract being awarded to Bupa CSH Ltd could hurt A&E and other health services.

It means we have smashed our target of 10,000 signatures in time for Friday’s health and adult social care committee (HASC) meeting.

After such a fervent response to our A&E SOS campaign we felt compelled to write to all 20 HASC members asking for them to reflect on the strength of local feeling.

It calls for the members to ‘bear in mind the strength of local feeling, illustrated by those 15,000 signatures, and to ensure that no decisions are taken that could jeopardise accident and emergency services in Chichester or Worthing’.

HASC is the county council’s health watchdog and it has the power to refer the decision to health secretary Jeremy Hunt.

On Friday members were to be given an update on an independent impact assessment. About 30 protesters greeted them with chants of “NHS not for sale.”

Members called for the assessment to be commissioned at their last meeting after hospital trust bosses warned of the impact on wider hospital services, especially trauma, as a result of the Bupa CSH Ltd deal.

Both West Sussex Coastal Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) – who handed Bupa the deal – and Western Hospital Trust have said they will abide by the findings of the assessment, which is due to be finished before Christmas. No contract will be signed in the meantime, the CCG has said.

Last week members from Don’t Cut Us Out, HealthAlert and CWS 38 Degrees all made their voices heard before a CCG meeting at Goring, before putting pre-submitted questions to the governing body.

A joint statement from the groups read: “We were very disappointed with the responses given by officers to questions raised by members of the public at Wednesday’s meeting of the CCG Governing Body.

“Almost all questions put to the CCG were met with evasions, irrelevancies, failures to answer and meaningless reassurances.”

Because of the delay in the impact assessment we have extended the deadline for petitions until further notice.

The Observer and the Herald and Gazette are committed to fighting for local health services including our accident and emergency unit at St Richard’s and we will continue our campaign for as long as a threat.