Westminster was hit by the second countryside protest in six months last week. But this time it wasn't the middle England of hunting, shooting and fishing fame.

More than 500 protesters of the caring, waiting and worrying persuasion came to lobby MPs about the possible closure of 14 cottage hospitals from Jarrow in the North East to Fowey in the South West.

The polite protesters held up traffic as they marched in orderly procession across Parliament Square from Methodist Central Hall carrying banners bearing the names of the threatened hospitals.

The meeting place was an apt setting for organiser Chris Davies, co-chair of the Oxfordshire campaign. His grey beard gave him the look of an Old Testament prophet, but his exhortations were not quite fire-and-brimstone.

'We have the TV cameras in the room. Will you find it helpful if we did a bit of banner waving and chanting?

It would? Please shout 'bed cuts - no' or 'save our hospitals', ' he urged his flock.

Outside, Betty Atkins, the mayor of Wallingford in Oxford, wearing a 'Save Wallingford Hospital' t-shirt, waved her banner for the cameras.

'We were the first purpose-built community hospital in the country in 1973. Now 25 years later they want to knock it down to save£1.5m and sell the land for housing - that is all they could get planning permission for, ' she said.

She said Wallingford had 33 beds, a 95 per cent occupancy rate and a very busy day hospital. 'If we close, it costs£10 to get a taxi to the hospital in Didcot. The train leaves you a mile and-a-half from the hospital.'

Nurse Steve Akers, a Unison steward in Oxford, said staff and users would take direct action if negotiations and protests failed.

'We will ask for the legal challenge if the closures go ahead, but if that doesn't work we will stage a work-in. We have used that tactic before and it worked.'

Edna Hole, a retired ward sister who worked at Abingdon Hospital , another Oxfordshire hospital now under threat, said she did not know where patients would go if between 46 and 66 community beds were lost in the county.

'There is already a lot of bed blocking I don't know what they will do with these extra patients.'

Tess Ormrod, a retired lecturer who worked in medical education, travelled from the Welsh border to help save Kington Hospital in Hereford.

'We are here to tell Frank Dobson that these cuts are short-term solutions. Our hospital is within budget and very well supported locally.'

Evan Harris, a former hospital doctor and now an Oxfordshire MP, led the lobbyists into the Commons to meet MPs.

'These hospitals will never be replaced once they are sold off to the private sector. This is an opportunity for the local people affected to tell their MPs what they think and put some pressure on the health secretary to think again, ' he said.

He said a windfall from the comprehensive spending review would be useless. 'These people wouldn't care about 3 per cent growth or an extra£8bn or whatever - they want to keep their local hospitals.'