A debt-ridden Midland hospital trust yesterday announced plans to build a new women's hospital as part of a major review of its services.
Expectant mothers, women and children who would usually access maternity, gynaecology or paediatric services at the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch, will in future have to travel to Worcester for treatment.
Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust - which launched a review of its clinical services and finances to find ways of saving £30 million - plans to centralise these, and other services, at Worcestershire Royal Hospital.
The dedicated women's hospital will be built on the former Aconbury East site at Worcester, which was previously earmarked for demolition under the review. The project costs have not yet been disclosed.
A report put before trust board members yesterday, before the plans were approved, stated that the neonatal and special care baby units at Redditch were "very fragile" and struggling to "provide appropriate staffing levels to provide a 24/7 service," which could compromise babies' safety.
Along with hospital births, neonatal care and the special care baby unit, all emergency gynaecology operations, elective surgery and obstetric consultants are to be moved 18 miles way to Worcester.
Day case gynaecology will be provided at the Alexandra Hospital and Kidderminster Treatment Centre.
Rachel Overfield, the trust's director of nursing, vowed the changes would not affect women who wish to have a home birth or cut the number of midwives.
She said: "Whatever way you look at this the same number of babies will still need to be delivered, so I can't imagine we will be looking to reduce the level of staff in this area. It will take us a while to get the women's hospital up and running, it certainly won't happen this year, so I can't see there being any immediate changes to maternity services."
A midwife-led maternity unit will be created to work alongside consultants in Worcester.
The children's ward at the Alexandra will also be scrapped, as trust bosses wish to make "better use of existing facilities in Worcester".
An "eight 'til late" assessment centre will also be set up in Redditch, to support its A&E department, cutting the 24-hour cover to just 12 hours.
Campaigner Neal Stote - who is leading a Save The Alex campaign - said he felt the move could mark "the beginning of the end" for the service.
"What happens if you need to take your child into hospital in the night, because usually it is something serious, if this service isn't available any more?" he said.
Dr Charles Ashton, the trust's medical director, answered: "There will be qualified medical cover, mostly at consultant level, for the eight 'til late service in Redditch.
"The problem is that we're currently providing a 24-hour service over two sites, which with the reduction in junior doctors' hours, is just not really feasible."
Other services which could be moved or further developed under the review include a new angioplasty service at Worcester, which is due to start by the end of the year.
The trust is also bidding to offer radiotherapy services for Worcestershire.
But it is the future of maternity and paediatric facilities in Redditch which are likely to prove contentious as hospital bosses prepare for a full consultation, expected to begin in the autumn. Chief executive John Rostill said: "The configuration of acute services in Worcester-shire is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain over the three sites.
"The numbers we've seen in obstetrics and paediatrics are small, and evidence suggest they are getting smaller, so that's why it's difficult to sustain services."
Michael O'Riordan, the trust's chairman, added: "We needed to get agreement today on these issues, and we've got that now, so we can start to look at how we take these proposals forward."