Hundreds of Salford people attended a rally to show their anger at the Salford and Trafford Primary Care Trust's willingness to close the Salford Royal Hospital Maternity Unit, and relocate services to Manchester, Bolton and Oldham. In short, killing the Salfordian and robbing the city of its identity.
Organised by mothers who have experienced at first hand the pain and joy of pregnancy and the unit's excellent care, the rally had full cross party-political support - from the Socialist Workers Party to Conservatives - and demonstrated the anger, displeasure and unity of the people.
Statements of support were read out to the crowd from personalities such as Ryan Giggs, John Thompson and Mike Sweeney, who wrote that "the last thing a Salford woman wants in the last stage of her pregnancy is a completely unnecessary trip across Greater Manchester to have a child!....Why has the almost 100% opposition to this, been arrogantly ignored?"
Sarah Davies, of the University of Salford's School of Midwifery and Nursing, told people that if the closure and change to services happen, only around 500 babies per year would be born inside the city, as only that many are low risk pregnancies where the specialist services of the current maternity unit are not needed. Local councillors also spoke to show their support with local Lib Dem leader Councillor Norman Owen saying "We need to get behind this. We need a Maternity Unit in this city!"
There were many stories from parents, too numerous to list, that showed the gratitude and appreciation for the Maternity Unit at Salford Royal, and the admiration for the staff who work there and who are also against this closure. Cynics may say that staff are against this closure to protect their jobs, but with staff being relocated to other units this is not a valid argument. It shows the dedication of staff within the hospital to support the campaign because they believe that services and service users will be put at risk.
Former councillor Mary Ferrer was able to paint a picture of the chaos to come when she recalled that her daughter was in labour for only 58 minutes, and got to Salford Royal in time for the birth to be dealt with by the experts. Replicating the scene for the future she mused "if my daughter had gone into labour in rush hour, she would have the baby in traffic because she wouldn't get across Manchester in time."
The Salford City Reds also attended the rally in an official capacity and invited the organisers to bring the petition to the final game of the season. In anther gesture of support the players warmed up for the game against Wakefield wearing the campaign's Born in Salford t-shirts… "A city of Salford's size should have a maternity unit" said John Blackburn of Salford City Reds Foundation "We want Salfordians to be born in the future, to support our team."
Many people are asking why the Maternity Unit is closing, when the Health Care Commission found only Stepping Hill hospital in Greater Manchester to be on a par with Salford Royal's. With a decision expected some time in late September by the GPs commission, time is running out and organisers called for people to give their support by signing the online petition at www.keephopematernityopen.com
All parties, from the mothers who organised the event to the councillors who supported it, vowed to keep the fight going.
The most poignant quote, and one which shows the feelings of a lot of people, was made by Reg Howard the chairman of Salford Green Party, who simply said "I'm here to support the Hope Maternity Unit. I don't want to see Salfordians die out…it is a form of genocide."
Words by Gareth Lyons
Photos by Gareth Lyons and Albert Spiby