A hospital trust is to centralise its consultant-led maternity and paediatric inpatient services onto one site without consulting the public, after an expert team warned of “the potential for calamity”.

East Sussex Healthcare Trust said the National Clinical Advisory Team – a Department of Health based clinical review group – had advised its paediatric and maternity services could not continue as they were.

The trust expects to centralise the services at the Conquest Hospital in Hastings within six to eight weeks. A standalone midwifery unit will be set up at Eastbourne General Hospital but all births involving a doctor, special care baby services or emergency gynaecology surgery will move to Hastings.

Overnight children’s care will also transfer to Hastings.

A statement from the trust said the centralisation was temporary and any permanent change would be subject to public consultation. However, it has decided no date for moving services back to Eastbourne. It is understood a consultation on permanent changes could start in the autumn.

The trust made the decision at an extraordinary meeting on March 8.

The action has angered campaigners in Eastbourne who have fought for several years to retain the services. A previous plan to centralise consultant-led maternity was overturned by the Independent Reconfiguration Panel in 2008 on the basis of access.

An NCAT group visited the trust in January and submitted a report last month. It said the trust needed to make an urgent decision because services were neither “safe nor sustainable”.

The team acknowledged a Sussex-wide process of service reconfiguration was already underway but said “the potential for calamity in East Sussex is such that decisions should not await the outcome of that process”.

It also called on the trust to reconsider its clinical strategy and said ideally all acutely ill patients should be treated on the same site. The trust currently runs A&E at both sites and has plans to divide stroke and emergency surgery services between hospitals.

Darren Grayson, trust chief executive, said: “We have a duty to make sure our obstetric and neonatal services are as safe as possible and meet national guidelines.

“Despite considerable effort over a long period of time we have not been able to recruit suitable doctors to fill essential posts in these specialities. This means we are over reliant on temporary and agency staff and the measures we have put in place to ensure the units are safe have become increasingly complex and unsustainable.”