Victory for NHS protest vote

IAN CLARKE Campaigners hailed a major victory for people power after the county's Primary Care Trust chairman lost her district council seat to a relative who fought her on a “save our hospitals” ticket.

IAN CLARKE

Campaigners hailed a major victory for people power after the county's Primary Care Trust chairman lost her district council seat to a relative who fought her on a “save our hospitals” ticket.

Sheila Childerhouse has been an independent Breckland councillor for Weeting, near Thetford, for 24 years and was well respected and her work for the community.

But despite being one of the longest serving councillors, she was defeated by 333 votes to 269 by her husband's cousin Robert Childerhouse, 27, who stood for Conservatives: Stop the Hospital Cuts.

Mrs Childerhouse insisted the defeat was down to a “surge of support” nationally for Tories and people had voted on Breckland issues not about hospitals.

However, the Tories said they had specifically targeted Weeting as Mrs Childerhouse is chairman of the PCT, which is currently carrying out public consultation on reducing the number of beds at community hospitals and centring services in fewer centres.

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The party also fielded “stop the cuts” candidates in Swaffham - where the town's cottage hospital could lose its 18 beds - and won huge victories.

Mr Childerhouse said there was huge concern in the area about cuts to hospital services, including at Swaffham as well as people from Weeting not being able to use facilities at the new Thetford health centre as they are in a different health area.

The idea for the Conservatives campaign was inspired by agent and Swaffham councillor Ian Sherwood, who has been a key player in the battle to protect the town's cottage hospital beds.

He said the victories - especially the one over Mrs Childerhouse - reflected the concern about the PCT's policy.

“We have been fighting hard to keep Swaffham hospital and as Mrs Childerhouse is the chairman of the PCT we felt it would be an issue people were concerned about.

“People do not know who their PCT representative is. These are unelected people and it is important who is responsible for making decisions. To do this has highlighted that Mrs Childerhouse is chairman and gave people the opportunity to register their view.”

Mrs Childerhouse said health had not been a key issue on the doorsteps for her at all during the campaign and people had been more concerned about such as bins and housing and community engagement.

“I think Breckland issues are what Breckland elections are about and it is entirely separate to the issue of health. People are worried about health but I do not think health played any part in this election.

“There has been a huge surge of support across the area for the Conservatives and that is why we have seen the changes.”

She said she was disappointed that an independent councillor had been lost but added: “That is what politics is about.”

Mr Childerhouse - who has been a parish councillor for four years - said he did not expect the results to affect family relations.

“We all farm in the same village and I am sure it will be absolutely fine.”

Mrs Childerhouse echoed the view and said: “I clearly wish him well and this is all part of the ebb and flow of local politics.”

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