On Saturday 18 March, 2,000 doctors, nurses and patients took to the streets of Chelsea in protest against NHS England’s proposal to close the vital congenital heart disease (CHD) service at Royal Brompton Hospital. Attendance was nearly double what had been expected.

Royal Brompton operates the largest CHD service in the UK, and consistently has among the best patient outcomes in the country. It also has exceptionally high patient satisfaction levels, with over 98% of patients saying that they would recommend the cardiology service.

The march to save these vital services was organised by the three charities associated with Royal Brompton Hospital: Royal Brompton & Harefield Hospitals Charity, Brompton Fountain and Friends of Royal Brompton Hospital.

Among the marchers were patients, parents of patients, doctors and nurses who vehemently oppose the plans, which will affect an estimated 14,000 patients and would result in the closure of other vital services, such as the hospital’s paediatric intensive care unit, children’s cystic fibrosis service and children’s asthma service. The hospital’s world-class CHD research team would also be destroyed if the plan goes ahead.

Baroness Sally Morgan, Chair of Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust was the first of a number of speakers to give rousing speeches before the march. MP Greg Hands promised to take the issue directly to the health minister in charge of hospital care.

A staunch supporter of the fight against NHS England’s plans, Baroness Boothroyd, Former Speaker of the House of Commons, gave a rallying speech in which she told NHS England: “Get your meddling hands off our hospital!”

Marchers were joined by members of the official Olympic drumming band and made themselves heard with tambourines, whistles and horns, in response to NHS England’s failure to listen to patients and their families so far. The march ended with a party atmosphere and supporters dancing to the drumming band and chants of “Brompton patients matter” and “Don’t break a beating heart”. Despite it being a protest, supporters were determined to remain positive and focus on the fantastic work of the Brompton.

Supporters also wore red in a striking display of solidarity, and made banners imploring NHS England to reconsider the proposals. “I have a brother because of the Brompton”, “Keep my heart beating”, and “How do you sleep at night?” alongside a picture of a young child on a ventilator were among the most memorable. Supporters were also invited to write their reasons for marching on heart shaped post it notes, with messages such as “You saved my daughter’s life, now it’s time to save yours”.

Baroness Boothroyd said prior to the march: “I have been a patient at Royal Brompton for many years and have had the most superb care and treatment. Royal Brompton has an outstanding record with among the best patient outcomes in the country.  Closure of the CHD Services by NHS England is an ill thought out proposal.  It would mean the hospital could no longer sustain its paediatric intensive care unit and treatment of some of the most complex and rare respiratory diseases would end.  World-leading heart disease research would also suffer.

“Why is so much money and energy being spent on a proposal to close the largest and best resourced CHD team in the country?  This reckless idea must be stopped.  I fully support the campaign to persuade NHS England to change its mind. Royal Brompton must continue doing the job in which excels.”

On the day, she told NHS England: “Get your meddling hands off our hospital!”

Dr Jan Till, Consultant Paediatric Electrophysiologist and Co-director of Children's Services at Royal Brompton, who was among the marchers on Saturday, said: “Patients and parents are very fearful about what might happen if these proposals go ahead and are struggling to have their views heard; no-one is listening to them. We are marching together to show that we fully support our patients and believe these proposals and this process to be a disgraceful sham. NHS England has no evidence that care will be improved and yet are willing to gamble with the safety and lives of patients with congenital heart disease."

Gill Raikes, Chief Executive, Royal Brompton & Harefield Hospitals Charity, Trudy Nickels, Director of The Brompton Fountain and Elizabeth Henderson, Director of The Friends of Royal Brompton Hospital said: “The sheer determination of all these people to come and join the march speaks volumes about the outrage we feel at the proposal to close such a world-class service at Royal Brompton Hospital. We urge NHS England to drop this destructive proposal and to put patients first – Brompton patients matter.”

Trudy Nickels, Director of Brompton Fountain, said: “That so many people have given up their Saturdays to protest against these nonsensical plans just shows how passionately everyone values the world-class care that Royal Brompton provides”, she continued.

CHD March