Guisborough erupted in outrage this week over the closure of the maternity unit at the town's hospital.

Angry mothers-to-be immediately mounted a protest campaign after hearing the ward would close next Friday owing to a shortage of midwives.

A petition was raised and some women threatened to demand home deliveries instead of having to travel to Middlesbrough for care at the James Cook University Hospital.

"This would cause havoc and really scupper the plans," said one mother-to-be.

Another expectant mother, Donna Martin, of Marske, is due to give birth in January.

"We only got a letter telling us about the closure this week, which is short notice," she said. "Everyone is shocked and totally opposed to the plan."

South Tees NHS Trust said the closure was temporary. But no date has been set for reopening.

To demonstrate its concern, Redcar and Cleveland Council aims to set up a select committee to look into the move.

The trust recently spent £50,000 on refurbishing the maternity ward at Guisborough General Hospital but said the money would not be wasted as it was intended to open the ward again.

A spokesman said out of a complement of 128 midwifery staff, there were 14 full-time vacancies for midwives within the trust. Asked if there could be further cuts if recruitment problems persisted, the spokesman said: "We hope not. We have been working to recruit midwives and have looked to extend the roles of other people to support the midwives."

Six midwives, full- and part-time, and a number of health care assistants will transfer to South Cleveland from the Guisborough unit.

The trust said it would review the situation on a monthly basis by looking at projections of staffing levels.

Consultant obstetrician Stewart Hutchison said: "We are reluctantly taking the decision to close the ward so we can ensure mums-to-be have a safe, high quality service at the James Cook University Hospital and in the community.

"We have been working for the last 18 months to try to address staff shortages in midwifery and to recruit."

Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Dr Ashok Kumar, said he wanted assurances that there were firm plans and a timetable for reopening the ward. He is writing to trust bosses to request a meeting on the issue.

"Even a temporary closure will cause great alarm in Guisborough," he said.

On Tuesday, the council's health improvement overview and scrutiny committee will be urged to create a select committee of nine to scrutinise the closure plan. It will examine the background to the decision and possible alternatives and take evidence from families and health professsionals.

Last year 125 babies were born at the maternity ward, compared to 3,320 at the James Cook. So far this year there have been 79 births at Guisborough and 2,758 at the James Cook