SWITCHING Harwich maternity unit to a birthing centre has been labelled as “horrendous” by campaigners.

The wards at Harwich and Clacton were closed for births in a shock move earlier this year due to staff shortages in Colchester.

It has now been recommended to the Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust that the birthing units be re-opened as “on demand” birthing centres.

A decision is set to be made on Thursday when the trust board meet and a timeframe will also be agreed.

Other options in the board paper suggest keeping the units shut or reopening them on a 24/7 basis.

But campaigners say reopening the units as birthing centres ignores advice from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

A report by NICE published last month said healthy women had a straightforward pregnancy should be encouraged to give birth in midwife-led units, rather than traditional labour wards like the one in Colchester.

Campaigner Jenny Semple, who organised a protest march and twilight vigil against the maternity closure, said: “We want them to open it 24/7.

“If it reopens as a birthing centre there will be no aftercare for women who are giving birth there.

“They might as well be giving birth in a field and going straight back out to work. It is like giving birth in a third world country.

“Midwife led units are what NICE are recommending. A lot of the women here are first time mums with no family to support them after giving birth. It is absolutely horrendous.”

MP Bernard Jenkin said the recommendation was encouraging.

He said: “This decision will be a great step forward, if approved by the Colchester Hospital and University Foundation Trust board. “Once this decision is approved, we will then be in a stronger position to make the case for maintaining Harwich Maternity Services in the forthcoming consultation on the long term future.”

The board paper, which will be presented to the trust on Thursday, examines the report published by NICE.

The meeting, which is open to the public, will take place in Training Rooms South, near the Main Entrance of Colchester General Hospital, beginning at 1pm.