FEARS are growing for the future of the special care baby unit and maternity ward at Dorset County Hospital under new cost-saving proposals.

The Dorchester hospital is being forced to make millions of pounds’ worth of savings which are expected to threaten jobs and services.

Hospital sources said the accident and emergency department at the £45million complex should be safe but the maternity unit and special care baby unit are in the firing line.

The source said that the proposals include closing the special care baby unit and axing consultants in the maternity ward – with scans and appointments continuing in Dorchester but mums having to give birth elsewhere.

The proposals could also see patients undergoing elective surgery and urology patients being sent to Poole or Bournemouth hospitals.

One source said: “One proposal is to close the special care baby unit and for the maternity unit not to have a consultant, but to rely on midwives.

“There are apparently some services that are not used by many people.

“The problem is, all these things have to go somewhere else. Babies who are ill will have to go to elsewhere.”

Another source, a member of medical staff who wished to remain anonymous, added: “They will retain just an emergency department for the heart attacks, road crashes and other accidents.

“All the planned surgery and maternity will go elsewhere. If you get rid of the consultants you can’t run a maternity service so if you want to have your baby, it won’t happen here.”

The hospital’s NHS Foundation Trust has confirmed it is expecting debts of £7.3million by the end of the financial year.

Hospital bosses are drawing up a stringent recovery plan to make up the deficit and are expected to announce any cutbacks by the end of the month.

Another source added: “Surgeons are the most likely to lose their jobs because planned surgery will be sent off elsewhere.”

The source said staff are blaming the board of directors and are calling for their sacking.

“The staff are very upset and angry because they do their jobs as well as they possibly can.

“Some staff want to see the board all sacked.

“These people are trusted as public servants to run our local hospital and they may reduce it to a little cottage hospital with an emergency service.”

Derek Julian, a patient governor for the trust, has vowed to fight to secure the hospital’s future.

He said: “I will do my best for patients to see the good name of Dorchester hospital and the service given to the community is protected. We’re lucky to have a good hospital but we've got to all fight to retain it.”

The Dorset County NHS Foundation Trust has stressed the plans are not finalised yet.

A spokesman said: “We are aiming to finalise our recovery plan by the end of the month when we will inform our staff of any changes that may affect them.”

The spokesman added: “All services are being looked at as part of the trust’s recovery plan.”

Mr Julian is calling on more members of the public to join the foundation trust as volunteers.

A COUPLE whose son was cared for at the special care baby unit (SCBU) say he would have died without it.

Simon and Kirstie Snow were shocked at the prospect of the unit closing and fear many young lives could be lost.

Their son Oscar, now aged 19 months, was born six weeks early in March 2008 and weighed just 2lb 11oz, arriving by emergency C-section in the middle of the night. He was then cared for at SCBU for five weeks.

Mrs Snow said: “Without them he wouldn’t be here.

“The care we received there was second to none and I don’t know how we would have coped without them.

“They saved Oscar’s life.

“Without the SCBU I fear for the lives of unborn children and for their parents.

“Not every story has a happy outcome like ours and they’re there for the people whose babies don’t make it as well.”

Mr Snow added: “Without a doubt if he’d had to go to Poole, Bournemouth or Southampton it wouldn’t be the same story.”

When Oscar was in hospital, Mrs Snow breastfed her son remotely, expressing milk and taking it to him from their home in West Knighton, near Dorchester, every four hours.

“For me to make that journey to Southampton or Poole would have been horrendous,” she said.

The couple, who run the Snowflakes shop in Weymouth for expectant parents, are struggling to understand why the ward may close.

Mr Snow said: “I can’t believe it isn’t well used. Surely the statistics would speak for themselves if you look at the number of children’s lives they have saved.

“I just can’t see how they can justify it – whoever is making the decision needs to go and visit SCBU for a day and see what they do.

“Is it worth saving a few quid over potentially saving lives?”

The couple have praised the staff at SCBU who they said went above and beyond what anyone would expect. They have vowed to support the unit in any way they can.