St John’s hero loses cancer fight

Ernie Walker campaigned to maintain services at St John's Hospital.
Ernie Walker campaigned to maintain services at St John's Hospital.
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THE driving force behind a campaign to save a Lothians hospital has lost his long battle with cancer.

Tributes have been paid to Ernie Walker, who died this month at home in West Lothian.

The 68-year-old from Dechmont had battled cancer since early 2009 and continued to work on behalf of the group tasked with helping St John’s Hospital in Livingston despite his illness.

A former NHS chief executive, his contribution to Action To Save St John’s helped the organisation win three council seats in the 2007 elections. A statement from the partner organisation, Stop the Downgrade, described him as the “lynchpin” for the cause.

It said: “Ernie showed though work and deed that with a steely determination in the face of considerable adversity, change for the better can be achieved. And he did it with a smile. We hope that his legacy will be honoured by those whose political futures have been aided by his hard work and commitment.

“Our thoughts and prayers are for his wife Joyce, his extended family and his many friends.”

Not only did Mr Walker have an impact on local government in West Lothian, but his standing in the 2007 Holyrood elections was also seen as key.

He knew he could not win the Livingston seat, but his popularity still won nearly 3000 votes, which analysts said eroded Labour’s majority in the area and helped the SNP’s Angela Constance win the seat.

But he will be most fondly remembered for his work for his beloved St John’s.

He took exception to NHS Lothian’s long-term plans for the hospital, and challenged it constantly on what he described as an erosion of services from a major acute facility to a virtual day clinic.

He quipped that if changes continued it would soon be known as “the Lothians centre for ingrown toenails”.

Although he was told two-and-a-half years ago that his cancer was terminal, he survived until November 6. Shortly after his death, close friends and family held a “private” funeral.

Friend and colleague Councillor Ellen Glass, whom he helped get elected, said: “He was just an amazing man. He loved life and everyone loved and respected him, he will be a great loss to us. He wanted things to be equal for everyone, and he was undoubtedly a very clever man too, which helped us greatly. Although he wasn’t originally from here, he was passionate about West Lothian and the people of West Lothian.”

Another member of Action to Save St John’s, Cllr Gordon Beurskens, added: “Ernie Walker was an inspiration to those around him.

“He formed a political party whose influence in healthcare has brought enormous, positive changes.

“That is a fitting legacy for a man who gave so willingly of himself for the cause he held dear.”