THE LABOUR group in Thurrock has thrown a 65th birthday party for the NHS – as its bid to save the local stroke unit was stepped up.

Campaigners, including parliamentary candidate Polly Billington, were in Grays town centre on Saturday gathering signatures for their stroke unit petition.

They say lives will be put at risk if Basildon and Thurrock Hospital pushes on with plans to downgrade its stroke unit.

If plans go ahead, stroke victims would be forced to travel to Southend to receive immediate treatment which protesters from the Thurrock Labour group, say could seriously reduce their chances of survival.

Thurrock is one of the most at risk areas for strokes according to data released by Public Health England, ranking 94th out of 150 local authorities.

Ms Billington said: “About 600 people a year suffer a stroke in Thurrock and access to quick treatment is crucial to their survival and recovery.

"Downgrading this life-saving service will lead to vital minutes being lost at a time when treatment is critical.

“As a resident of Thurrock I will fight hard to keep the services we need, where we need them.”

Cllr Barbara Rice, Thurrock Council’s health chief, said: “It is imperative stroke sufferers get the fastest access to avoid irreversible health complications.

“It makes sense for this service to be provided at Basildon Hospital, to avoid delays in treatment and provide a service nearest to people homes.”

You can sign the petition at petitions/46622