A trust has reversed its decision to close a maternity unit after threats from a local MP to raise the issue with the prime minister.

A trust has reversed its decision to close a maternity unit after threats from a local MP to raise the issue with the prime minister.

East Sussex Hospitals trust wanted to close the unit temporarily at Conquest Hospital in Hastings and move all patients to Eastbourne District General Hospital after two consultants left.

The trust announced that it would keep the unit open and review maternity services only a day before Hastings and Rye MP Michael Foster said he was due to raise the issue with Tony Blair.

Mr Foster said proposals to close the unit were 'utterly outrageous'. He claimed that Eastbourne DGH would be kept open because mothers in those areas might opt for other hospitals, whereas people in deprived Hastings had no choice but to travel to Eastbourne.

'Within the choice programme it is important that there is targeting in the areas of greatest need. That is the point that managers failed to understand,' he said.

A trust spokesperson said there had been no pressure over the decision from the strategic health authority, the Department of Health or Number 10.

The trust has now found a locum who will offer cover when needed, but in the long term expects to close one of the two units - which deliver a total of 3,400 babies a year. The travelling time between the two units is up to an hour.

Recent independent reports commissioned by the trust have said maintaining services at two units was not viable without significant staff increases. The Surrey and Sussex-wide review is also expected to call for larger maternity units, dealing with over 3,500 births a year.

But trust medical director Dr David Scott said matters came to a head with the resignations. 'We felt that given the uncertainty about the service and the financial situation, it would be unwise to seek immediate replacements, or decide whether this was the appropriate time to look at becoming a single site.'

Plans were made to concentrate services at Eastbourne from this summer - but the trust decided to appoint a locum to give it more time to consider its options.

'We have to look at whether it is more cost-effective to put it in Eastbourne, we may need to invest in additional anaesthetic cover,' said Dr Scott. 'We hope most staff will transfer to the other town, but we acknowledge that some almost certainly will not.'

He said the remaining consultant staff accepted the need for change. But he added that with the trend towards larger maternity units, he could see East Sussex being left with no obstetric units.