Midwives concerned over Cumbria maternity shake-up
Midwives have warned that mothers and babies "may die" if consultant-led maternity care were to be removed from West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven.
The option is one of a number being considered by the Success Regime - a body set up to examine ways of improving health care in north Cumbria.
Local midwives are concerned that mothers facing unexpected problems would need a long and risky transfer.
The Success Regime said it was working to find the best long-term solution.
The body was set up by the government in response to concerns raised by watchdog the Care Quality Commission (CQC) about North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust.
Proposals to overhaul the service and save money include downgrading the maternity unit at West Cumberland Hospital, with "high risk" patients booked for delivery in Carlisle' Cumberland Infirmary.
However, there is concern that mothers perceived as low risk who then experience unforeseen difficulties during labour would face a journey of more than 40 miles (64km) on often congested roads.
A number of midwives have signed an open letter warning of the dangers.
Bernadette Bowness, who has been a local midwife for 36 years, said: "We're going to become a third world area because of our inaccessibility to a consultant-led unit."
"If ladies have to be transferred, mothers may die, babies may die.
"It babies have foetal distress, what with the transfer time they may end up brain damaged."
The Success Regime said a national shortage of paediatric staff had made the current situation untenable.
Its medical director, Dr Stephen Singleton, said: "Clearly it would not be ideal to be in distress at the back of an ambulance, but equally it would not be ideal to have a service fall over because we hadn't planned ahead for the future.
"In first world countries people have to travel a long way to have their babies as well."
A public consultation exercise is due to begin in September.