A liverly, noisy demonstration of over 400 people took place in Greenock near Glasgow on Saturday of last week against the possible closure of the Rankin Maternity Unit at the Inverclyde Royal Hospital. The march, which took place despite freezing weather, was the culmination of six weeks of well organised activity by a group of committed members of the local community.
They form the core of a campaign that includes midwives, local people and political activists. Speakers at a rally in the town hall included a retired midwife, Margaret McKay, who set out a passionate case for retention of the unit. Dr Mustafa Kapasi, a Greenock GP, warned that the hospital could eventually be downgraded to cottage hospital status or even closed, despite serving a community of around 80,000 people.
He likened this fight to one he had led in 1976 against an increase in junior doctors' working hours. He told the rally, 'In those days Michael Foot, then a Labour cabinet minister, called me a 'red'. Well, I'm still a red when it comes to this issue.' An 'apology' for not attending the demonstration was read out on behalf of local Labour MSP Duncan McNeil. That brought booing and shouts of, 'Who?' McNeill had previously initiated a petition against closure, but had come under increasing criticism for his failure to attend any of the campaign's meetings to date.
Campaign treasurer Pat Clarke was cheered when he said that the market has no place in the provision of public healthcare. He slammed the 'faceless bureaucrats' of the local health trust. Unanimous He attacked the Scottish Executive for not keeping its promise of increasing local democracy through a 'bonfire of the quangos' in the health service. He also spoke for the Save the Rankin Campaign in offering support for two nearby maternity units that are also under review-at Vale of Levan in Alexandria and Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley.
There was a unanimous vote to oppose closure or downgrading of any of the three units, and to continue campaigning until 'this threat is lifted once and for all'.
The main speeches were followed by emotional appeals from local people. 'Thirty nine years ago I nearly lost my life. Myself and my son would not be here if it wasn't for the Rankin,' said Catherine. 'They can talk to us about facts and figures, but the basic fact is this-one death caused by this move will be one death too many,' said another Greenock mother.
Hundreds of people left the meeting enthusiastic in their determination to keep fighting alongside those trying to save the other units. 'It's been a great success,' said Teresa. 'We will look upwards from now on. It will be hard if the decision has already been made, but public pressure will win the day.'