Queen Elizabeth Hospital King's Lynn Queen Elizabeth Hospital King's Lynn. Source: Andy Parrett - geograph.org.uk/p/1793859 / shared under license CC BY-SA 2.0

Jacqueline Mulhallen describes how a dedicated and organised campaign has got results

Boris Johnson’s promise in the 2019 Conservative manifesto to build 40 new hospitals was like so many others false. It later turned out that many of these hospitals were unlikely to be built by the promised date of 2030. The Queen Elizabeth Hospital at Kings Lynn in Norfolk was not among these 40 hospitals but later submitted an expression of Interest for a proposed additional eight new hospitals. 

Built in 1980, QEH was supposed to last only 30 years. Reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete was used in its construction, but this has been failing and now the hospital is being kept up with steel and timber support props. Despite this, it was in doubt whether the whole hospital would be replaced. However, on Thursday 25th May, the government announced that it has been added to its new hospital programme.

There is a strong feeling in the area of West Norfolk served by the hospital that this success is largely due to a long-running campaign led by Councillor Jo Rust, who is also Secretary of the King’s Lynn & District Trades Council.

Jo first became aware of the problems in April 2021. She does not trust the Tories with the NHS and knew that without a strong community campaign that also kept the pressure on the local MP, it would be far easier to ignore the needs of the hospital. The campaign started straight away with a demo on 28th April that year. 

Campaigners held weekly demos outside the QEH, wrote and delivered tens of thousands of letters, postcards, Santa’s letters, signatures on giant Christmas cards, one with a Grinch theme, Santa’s scroll and a Valentine card!  They collected hundreds of signatures on petitions.  They went up to Parliament three times and to the Department of Health with Jo dressed in a hard hat and high viz vest!  

Jo describes the energy of the campaign. ‘We held public meetings, one with Jeremy Corbyn speaking in support, followed by a march around the town centre. We kicked a can down the road like the Tories did with making a decision about the QEH, we held stalls and had a Where’s Wally? theme to highlight the fact Steve Barclay was nowhere to be seen.  We had a fake red carpet and a cardboard cutout of Nick Markham, the minister in charge (at that time) of the New Hospitals Programme.  We made sure the press and media were involved in each and every one of these events. Because we were creative, it kept people motivated.  But of course, it takes perseverance, resilience and determination to keep up the campaigning for all that time. We also felt very frustrated at the continued delays we faced and rumours of an announcement which then never materialised. 

Although she is still worried about whether the hospital will be up and running by 2030, Jo has been told by the executive team at QEH that the campaign has made all the difference. She has absolutely no doubt whatsoever that had a Tory administration been returned to run the borough council in the May local elections, there wouldn’t have been this positive outcome. She hopes the QEH’s success will inspire others to follow suit. ’We can’t influence change without fighting for it’, as she says.

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Jacqueline Mulhallen

Jacqueline Mulhallen, actor and playwright, has co-ordinated King’s Lynn Stop the War since 2003 and initiated and organised 14 Women for Change talks for King’s Lynn & District Trades Council (2012/2013). Her books include The Theatre of Shelley (Openbooks, 2010), and a Shelley biography (Pluto Press, 2015). Her plays include 'Sylvia' and 'Rebels and Friends’.

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