AN 11th hour U-turn is unlikely in plans to temporarily shift Barrow’s expert-led maternity unit and special care baby unit to Lancaster from tomorrow.

The University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust (UHMBT) said today that despite growing opposition to its decision, it has to press ahead tomorrow because it does not have the resources to safely maintain the service from Barrow.

Furness General Hospital's consultant-led service - used by those expecting complicated births is shifting to the Royal Lancaster Infirmary (RLI) from tomorrow due to what the trust says are chronic staff shortages in Barrow.

Routine births will carry on at the maternity unit at FGH.

Campaigners suspect it is the start of a downgrading of Barrow's higher-level maternity service and its long-term transfer to RLI, although trust officials refute this.

A meeting of opponents to the move was held on Friday. Organisers said 250 people attended with speakers including parents, union reps and some local GPs.

It expects to organise another meeting at Barrow’s maximum-capacity venue, The Forum, in the next few weeks to which trust officials will be invited.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has also entered the debate.

Regional Director Steve Flanagan said: “We would question whether there is sufficient capacity at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary to receive mothers and babies from Barrow and how urgent cases would be transferred.

“Absolutely everything must be done to maintain safe quality care. We’re also very concerned about the impact on staff at Furness General Hospital and how they will cope with a daily round trip of some 100 miles after a busy shift.”

However, trust bosses have insisted that their hand has been forced because the current consultant-led service in Barrow has been hit with chronic staff shortages and is becoming unsafe.

They say they want to safeguard standards for mums and newborns by putting them in the hands of expertise in Lancaster, and only temporarily.

In a statement issued last week, Sir David Henshaw, Interim Chair, University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (UHMBT) said: “Over the past eight weeks, we have been filling shifts with the goodwill of existing and agency staff but the situation has now risen to a level where this is not enough to ensure safe staffing levels.

“The safety of everyone who uses our hospitals is a priority for the new Trust Board at Morecambe Bay. As from 9am, Tuesday 5 February 2013, all SCBU services and consultant-led maternity services will be temporarily transferring from FGH to the Royal Lancaster Infirmary (RLI)."

“Therefore as of the 5 February, we will maintain a safe, midwifery led service at FGH. We have no desire to keep the service away longer than it needs to be and are aiming for the service to return as soon as safe, sustainable staffing levels can be achieved.

Jackie Daniel, Chief Executive, UHMBT said sickness absence was ‘unsustainable.’

“We will continue to work hard, together with the wider NHS to recruit more midwives and neonatal nurses. We have also liaised with other specialist and regional providers to second staff, but this has not yet proved successful.”

“The Trust will naturally be speaking directly to women who are due to give birth imminently and those who already have planned dates for delivery or induction of labour in the coming days.

"All pregnant women in the area will be contacted with regards to their ongoing antenatal care and also in relation to the plans for the birth of their baby.”

“In the meantime, if any women have concerns or require further information they can call 0800 028 2340 between 8am and 10pm, Monday to Friday, and between 8am and 7pm, Saturday and Sundays."

She added: "It is important to note, if pregnant women are in need of urgent advice in relation to their own or their unborn baby’s health or if they suspect they are in labour, they should contact the delivery suite directly using the numbers they have already been given. In any other emergency, they should dial 999 and request an ambulance."