THOUSANDS of people marched through Kendal town centre this morning to protest against cuts at Westmorland General Hospital.

Despite lashing rain, police estimated at least 4,000 people turned out. Some observers put the number of marchers as high as 6,000.

Carrying placards and posters - and led by a specially-put together jazz band - families, patients, health care workers, pensioners, and politicians joined together in a united front.

In a rousing speech from the balcony at the town's Liberal Club, the MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, Tim Farron, told the marchers: "Consultation to me is a two-way thing - speaking and listening - and this is the time when the trust needs to listen.

"If we stand together as a community we can defeat the people in authority who want to reduce our services."

The fact that so many people had braved the atrocious weather only served to emphasise how strongly they felt, he said.

The marchers were opposing proposals to close the popular hospital to all, or some, urgent medical cases, such as those patients suffering from a heart attack or stroke.

Under the proposals, put forward by the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust, South Lakeland patients would have to travel to the Royal Lancaster Infirmary, or Furness General Hospital in Barrow. Opponents claim this would put lives at risk.

For reports and pictures of the march, see The Westmorland Gazette, out September 8.