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Hands off HRI: the student campaign to save a local A&E

Tuesday 02-08-2016 - 12:11

Huddersfield SU became a major player in the campaign to save the local Accident and Emergency department, ensuring that the student voice was heard and that student health care services were protected. Lydia Blundell, Head of Voice, Insight and Advice, tells us how.

In January 2016 the Greater Huddersfield CCG announced proposals to close the Huddersfield Royal Infirmary A&E department. This not only proved a threat to the lives of the residents, and 20,000 students in Huddersfield but posed a threat to the numerous students’ union sports clubs who rely on the service, and removes lots of placement opportunities for our student nurses.

With this threat it was important to get the CCG aware of our presence as they disregarded students in Huddersfield, a key stakeholder to A&E. The "Hands off HRI" campaign was launched as a result of the SU's concerns, with the five full-time officers all deciding to make this campaign a key priority for the year.

We wanted to ensure the views of students were heard loud and clear during the CCG Consultation, and to fight the closure of the A&E campaign, putting healthcare back into the heart of Huddersfield. After the cuts to the A&E department were announced, the University Health Centre received word that they were having their funding cut by a third, again threatening student health care provision in Huddersfield.

This made our campaign even bigger.

The campaign was led by the officer team, in collaboration with local community groups. We held initial conversations with local MPs Jason McCartney and Barry Sheerman, getting support for our campaign to stop the closure of the A&E department. These MPs then led a debate in Parliament to gather support.

We held a student-led protest at the public CCG meeting, with over fifty students getting on our coach to chant with bright pink placards, banners and posters outside the meeting. One of our officers attended the meeting, raising numerous questions with the Board making the final decision. We received lots of press and publicity as a result, featuring in the local newspaper the Examiner, and on BBC News. The student crowd far outweighed the other attendees at the protest.

To support this we created a page on our website to give students the information they needed to get involved, and the officers supported this with a blog and an all-student online petition. We circulated links to the government petition, which has now reached over 60,000 signatures.

In order to make sure students could have their say we arranged a face-to-face consultation with the CCG on campus, as well as a question and answer session specifically dedicated to the student audience on campus. Both events were well attended with students asking well thought out questions, and challenging the decisions made by the CCG Board.

In addition to this, members of our officer team attended local committee groups in order to put the students at the heart of the campaign. At our annual Varsity competition, all our t-shirts had #handsoffHRI printed on the back, and everyone attending had a flag to wave, spreading the message even further.

Our officer team also supported community organised protests across Huddersfield, with thousands of local residents attending to show their support constantly increasing the support and awareness of the needs of medical provision for students in a university town.

To tie in the work supporting the University Health Centre we created flyers asking students why high quality health care provision was important to them - collecting personal stories to share with NHS England.

We wrote to Moira Dumma, Director at NHS England outlining our concerns, receiving a prompt response. We are currently awaiting the outcome of the public consultation, but we have raised the profile of the issue with the student body, showcased the power of the student body among the local population and with the board of the local CCG. The CCG now considering us vital partners and key stakeholders within the community to all medical provisions. 

We have heard in the last couple of months that rather than cutting the University Health Centre funding by a third, the cuts will be significantly less and in line with other NHS cuts across the country. This means the student health care services on campus are safe; particularly mental health, physiotherapy and sexual health services.

A fantastic win for the students of Huddersfield, and one that wouldn't even have been on the agenda if it wasn't for the campaign and support of students.

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