Debt-hit Royal Surrey hospital cuts maternity staffing
Several midwife vacancies are to be left unfilled at a major hospital that is trying to save £22m.
The Royal Surrey County hospital in Guildford has warned of "some very difficult decisions and changes to working practice".
It is cutting its midwife-to-mother ratio but insisted "patient safety, standards and care will not be affected".
A former NHS trust chairman Roy Lilley said it "was a very bad idea".
"They are sailing very close to the wind by reducing staffing levels. Unfortunately, finding extra midwives (when you need them) is very difficult, you have to resort to emergency agency arrangements which cost the earth or you simply do not get them.
"Reducing the ratio to balance the books is the worst of all decisions."
The hospital trust said under the ratio, there would be one midwife per 30 mothers, rather than 29.
Retired NHS midwife Val Clarke, from Epsom, said: "It is very worrying. This can only impact on the mothers. When you are very busy, you are unable to give the level of care to each mother that they should be receiving."
'Very difficult decisions'
In a statement, Royal Surrey said: "The safety of our patients is our primary concern and as such we measure our midwife acuity levels on a daily basis."
The trust said the ratio change was "not driven" by its need to make savings, but came from a "normal monthly process" of reviewing nursing and midwifery numbers.
But it also warned: "This year, the trust needs to save over £22m, which means... making some very difficult decisions and changes to working practice."
Local hospital campaigner Karin Peluso told BBC Surrey: "If this continues at the Royal Surrey and they start slashing at the frontline services, key personnel like midwives, then the hospital could be on a very slippery slope."
In April, regulator NHS Improvement began an inquiry after the trust recorded an annual deficit of £11m.
It said the trust has since agreed to develop long and short term plans to improve its finances "without impacting on patient care".