HUNDREDS of demonstrators showed their opposition against cuts to NHS services at Hartlepool Hospital by taking part in a protest march.

Armed with placards and boosted by honks of support from passing traffic, the wintry conditions did not deter people of all ages, including Hartlepool MP, Iain Wright, from walking from Seaton Carew to the rear of the hospital on Saturday.

The rally was organised by Sue Little who launched a Facebook campaign urging local people to unite over the downgrading of their hospital.

In recent years acute medical and surgical services, including its Accident and Emergency department, have been transferred to the University Hospital of North Tees in Stockton by the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust.

Health bosses argued this was needed to maintain and improve the safety and quality of hospital-based care.

More than 1,000 people indicated they intended to stand alongside Mrs Little and, as she clapped to welcome them in at the end of the two-hour march, she said she was overwhelmed by the response.

“I am absolutely over the moon. I started the campaign because there’s not a big enough forum in this town to help all these people. We want A&E, maternity and the children’s ward brought back," she said.

"The trust said the issue is over safety but where is the safety of people in Hartlepool being considered in all this,” added Mrs Little, 41, from Seaton Carew, who met with trust deputy chief executive, Julie Gillon, and director of nursing, Cath Siddle, following the protest.

Amanda Corbett, a specialist nurse at Hartlepool Hospital who took part in the event, said: “I feel for my patients. I think they should keep up the pressure."

"I am passionate about this because people in villages who don’t drive are having to take three buses to North Tees in Stockton and three to James Cook in Middlesbrough, our elderly and disabled residents just can’t manage," added former Peterlee town mayor Mary Cartwright who now sits on Peterlee Town Council as the first member of the North-East Party win a council seat.

Medical director for North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust Dr David Emerton, who is also a consultant in accident and emergency, said: “We totally respect people’s right to protest about issues which concern them.

“However we would like to emphasise that the centralisation of services at the University Hospital of North Tees was driven by our clinicians, is fully supported by our commissioners and was done purely for reasons of safety and quality.

“What was acceptable in terms of clinical practice in the health service ten or even five years ago is no longer acceptable because medicine has moved on. We have to ensure our services can meet the higher standards now expected.”