OUTRAGE has greeted the news that a maternity hospital is to be closed down because of a lack of midwives.

Expectant mothers were petitioning on the streets within hours of hearing the news on Monday that the maternity unit at Guisborough General Hospital is to be closed.

South Tees NHS Trust stressed the closure will only be temporary but no date for reopening the unit has been set.

When the maternity ward is closed next Friday, expectant mothers in rural East Cleveland will have to travel to Middlesbrough or Whitby to give birth.

The NHS Trust has recently spent £50,000 refurbishing the maternity unit.

Donna Martin, 31, of New Marske, near Redcar, is due to give birth in January.

She said: "Myself and one or two other expectant new mums I know got a letter from the hospital this morning, which is short notice considering it will be closed next week. Everyone is shocked and everyone is against it."

The protestors were backed by leading political figures in Cleveland. Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Ashok Kumar said: "I want a assurances there are firm plans and firm timetable for reopening. I am writing to the NHS Trust chief executive to request a meeting."

David Walsh, leader of Redcar and Cleveland Council, called for a delay on closure and said he would be using new council powers to force the issue.

He said: "As a result of recent legislation local councils have the power to legally scrutinise the decisions of health trusts.

"I will be asking the trust to delay any closure until such scrutiny has been undertaken."

A spokesman for the South Tees Hospitals NHS Trust said that out of a complement of 128 midwifery staff there are 14 full-time vacancies. The £50,000 spent recently would still benefit future mothers.

Consultant obstetrician Stewart Hutchinson said: "We're reluctantly taking this decision so we can ensure mothers-to-be have a safe, high quality service at The James Cook University Hospital and in the community.

Last year 125 babies were born at the maternity ward at Guisborough General Hospital and 3,320 at The James Cook University Hospital.

There have been 79 births to-date at Guisborough this year and 2,758 at The James Cook. However, many mothers in the area give birth in Middlesbrough and recuperate at Guisborough