THERE would be “vigorous” opposition to moving consultant-led maternity care from Winchester’s Royal Hampshire County Hospital, the chairman of a key forum has warned.

Mindy Noble, chairman of North Hampshire Maternity Services Liaison Committee, which includes health managers and service users, fears shifting services to the planned £70m hospital north of Winchester would be a “backward step” in normalising births, if women have their first baby at the new critical treatment hospital.

Hampshire Hospitals’ NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Winchester, Basingstoke and Andover hospitals, plans to treat strokes, heart attacks and major trauma patients at the emergency hospital, which will have consultants on site 24-hours-a-day, sevendays- a-week.

Most patients will arrive by “blue light” ambulance or helicopter.

As revealed in the Chronicle earlier this month, medical chiefs are also considering creating a centralised obstetric unit for women with high-risk pregnancies, which could also include paediatric intensive care and special care baby unit.

This means maternity services at the RHCH and Basingstoke hospital could be downsized to midwife-led units for natural, straightforward births only, while women who choose or need more medical care would go to the new emergency hospital.

Ms Noble said: “I feel that service users and their families in Winchester would vigorously oppose the removal of obstetric services from Winchester but that is just my personal opinion.”

She added: “If there were to be only midwife-led services at Winchester and Basingstoke, I would be particularly concerned about women with first pregnancies as there is a higher transfer rate (to hospital) for these women.

“I would be worried that all women would be directed to the acute centre for their first baby and that birthing at a critical treatment centre seems a backward step in keeping births normal.”

The mother-of-three said collocated birth centres, or midwife-led units in the grounds of hospitals, were popular as they made transfer to consultant-led maternity wards easier if there were complications.

Ms Noble said she would like to see this option explored as part of the shake-up of maternity services — and called for more consultation with local women and service users.

Any major changes to services have to go out for public consultation and be approved by councillors on the county council’s Health and Overview Scrutiny Committee.

Trust chiefs have refused to confirm or deny the maternity ward at the RHCH could be downsized to a midwife-led unit under the proposals.

A spokesman said: “We want women and their families to have greater choice, and any plans will be informed by the people who use our maternity services.”