HOSPITAL bosses have vowed to keep the maternity and special care baby unit open at Dorset County Hospital.

The decision follows a major outcry after it was revealed they could be axed to save cash.

The Echo discovered that the departments had been threatened with closure or cutbacks – along with other specialist units such as oncology – as Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust undertakes a cost-saving review.

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

The trust’s chairman Robin SeQueira resigned after the Echo broke the story. He said he could not preside over the drastic cuts needed.

Now the trust’s medical director Dr Nick Hateboer has responded to the public backlash against the proposals.

He said: “We know that the public are concerned about the future of hospital services, including maternity and the special care baby unit (SCBU) – however, we have no plans to close these departments.

“We understand how important these services are to the community.”

However, a hospital source who confirmed that the baby units were under threat described the latest announcement as a ‘smokescreen’ to ‘calm the troops’ while decisions were made.

The source said: “There’s been a tremendous furore in the hospital internally.

“A lot of the hospital staff, especially at lower levels, are very concerned and members of the public have also been complaining to the hospital.

“I think this is a smokescreen. The board of directors realise they’re under the microscope and I know several are thinking about resigning.”

The source said 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 accident and emergency department at the £45million complex should be safe but proposals could see patients undergoing elective surgery and urology patients being sent to Poole or Bournemouth hospitals.

A member of staff said that the board were sending out confused signals and no one seemed to know exactly what was happening.

She said: “They are running scared after the story about the maternity unit and SCBU. Staff don’t know what’s going on and we hope that the latest statement what it says – that the units will not be closed.”

Dr Hateboer said the hospital was facing major financial problems and is currently predicting a deficit of £7.4million by the end of the financial year – March 30, 2010.

He added: “The trust board has recognised the scale of the financial challenges and agreed to take the necessary steps to ensure that we continue to provide quality hospital services to our community.

“We are listening to our local community, staff and health partners during the review of our services and will put forward proposals in dues course. We have not made any premature judgements or decisions about any one service – and certainly have not singled out the maternity or SCBU.

“All the services we provide will be considered equally and openly and responsible decisions reached in consultation with all our partners for the good of the whole community.

“We are working closely with our clinicians and department heads to make sure we fully explore all the options.

“We will continue to keep our staff, the public and media informed about developments.”

NHS Dorset chief executive Paul Sly added: “This is a very challenging time for Dorset County Hospital and NHS Dorset, as the commissioner of health services will be seeking to work with the trust to ensure that they continue to provide both high quality and cost effective services.”

A spokesman for the hospital said an announcement on any cutbacks would be made by the end of November.

PARENTS whose children were cared for at the special care baby unit (SCBU) have welcomed the news that it may be saved.

Simon and Kirstie Snow said their son Oscar, now aged 19 months, was born six weeks early and would have died without the specialist care he received at the Dorchester hospital.

Mrs Snow said: “If they could keep SCBU and the maternity unit open, obviously that would be fantastic.

“Just the idea of it closing is unthinkable really. I don’t know how we would function as a county without these two facilities.

“It would be awful, especially for West Dorset if parents had to travel to Poole and Bournemouth.

“I hope to have another baby in the future and if there were complications like I had with Oscar, it could be very worrying without the service at Dorchester.”

She added: “I appreciate the hospital has to save a huge amount of money. It’s just a case of which services will they pick?

“My sister is having chemotherapy at the moment and my grandparents have been treated at the hospital, so we’ve used the hospital a lot.

“Someone is going to get the short straw – I just hope it’s not the newborns.”

Clive and Louise Burgess’s twin daughters Charlotte and Megan, now aged 18 months, were cared for there after they were born prematurely. The sisters were born at 35 weeks by caesarean section in the maternity ward at Dorset County Hospital and transferred to the special care unit because they arrived early.

Mr Burgess, of Manor Place, Portland, said: “We found the standard of care at the special care baby unit was absolutely second to none.

“Charlotte and Megan were there for three weeks and they’re are doing exceptionally well now.

“It was very reassuring to know the unit was there. It would have been much more of a strain on the family and my husband if the twins were in Yeovil or Southampton with the longer distances and everything else.”

THOUSANDS of mums have expressed their fears over the future of Dorset County Hospital special care baby unit and maternity ward.

Almost 5,000 people have joined a group created on the social networking website Facebook after the hospital announced it needed to make £7.3million in savings.

The hospital has now pledged to keep the unit open with more definite plans coming at the end of November.

However, mums of babies born at the hospital want more answers now.

Cheryl Barrett, 29, from Weymouth, has already received approval to start a petition on the Number 10 Downing Street website and said that she is going to start a campaign locally as well.

The mother of two-year-old Ethan, who was born at the hospital, said: “Saying there will be an answer in November is not good enough – it has got to be a yes or no.

“All my friends and my partner are 100 per cent behind me on this, we want them to tell us for definite.

“It is brilliant to see all the support on Facebook, that is a petition in its own right.”

Rachel Hayball started the group named ‘Save the maternity department and SCBU at Dorset County Hospital from closure’ which has gained almost 5,000 members in under a week.

She said: “This is the only maternity unit in south and west Dorset and closing it would mean that a lot of people would have over an hour’s drive to a hospital if they were in labour.

“It would also mean that a much-needed special baby care unit would close, risking the lives of many very poorly babies.

“We need to get together and make our voices heard. We cannot let this go ahead – lives will be lost if this unit is closed.”

Anthea Dugdale, 33, from Dorchester, gave birth to her three-month-old daughter Tamzin at the hospital eight weeks prematurely and she said that if she had to travel to another hospital her little girl might not have lived. She said: “I really want the unit to stay open in case I decide to have children in the future and I’m sure a lot of other mums feel the same way.

“I’m glad the hospital is saying it is going to stay open, but us mums need to know whether it is or not for definite.

“The end of November is just too long to wait.

“They must know now so I wish they would just tell us for sure rather than keeping everyone in suspense.”

To support the group visit and search for the group’s title or to sign Cheryl’s petition visit