DEFIANT campaigners will stage a protest march in Southend High Street opposing "appalling" cuts to NHS services which they fear will put patients at risk.

The protest, called “no ifs, no buts, no NHS cuts”, has been organised by Southend resident and NHS public governor Leanne Kelly who has raised a catalogue of concerns.

Mrs Kelly, who will be joined by other concerned campaigners, is voicing objections to plans to “re-designate” Southend Hospital’s neonatal unit.

The move would see premature babies born before 32 weeks cared for at either Basildon or Broomfield hospitals, rather than Southend.

The protest is also against the temporary suspension of home cancer treatments, and plans to wipe out 600 jobs at mid and south Essex hospitals to cut costs.

The Mid and South Essex Trust insists the changes are not cuts, claiming changes to neo-natal services will benefit the Southend paediatric assessment unit, allowing specialist staff to be based there.

Bosses also say the temporary suspension of home cancer treatments is being tackled by helping patients to “self-administer”.

In April, it was revealed the trust had been ordered to remove “600 whole-time equivalent posts” from the budget to tackle a £100million deficit.

Mrs Kelly said the protest was inspired by the experiences of former Southend councillor Tricia Cowdrey who has also suffered with transport issues between hospitals while battling cancer - something parents may encounter if the neonatal unit plans go ahead.

Mrs Kelly said: “I am battling for her and the neonatal unit, which is being downgraded, something I believe is out of line and putting lives at risk. I don’t want to be quiet, and I am doing anything I can to put a spanner in the works.”

Matthew Hopkins, chief executive of Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust, said: “There was a temporary suspension of home cancer treatments for a small number of people, following the provider of this service no longer being able to fulfil the home-based injections. We are supporting patients to either self-administer, with support from cancer nurses, or come into the hospital to have their treatment.”

He added the neonatal “proposals mean we will have more expert clinicians in Southend’s paediatric assessment unit and be able to increase outpatient appointments to reduce waiting time.”