HEALTH bosses have admitted Wycombe Hospital's midwife-led birthing centre may be closed temporarily because of “extreme staffing shortages”.

Buckinghamshire Hospitals NHS Trust says it is considering shutting the baby unit from August 1 for an interim period over safety fears due to an “extreme” lack of staff.

Health chiefs say a decision has yet been made on the mooted proposals but has moved to reassure would-be parents there “would be firm plans in place to re-open the unit”.

The trust said other maternity services at Wycombe Hospital, such as the breastfeeding clinic, would be “unaffected” by any closure and 17 new midwives would be in place by the end of October.

Trust spokesman Zosia Katnik said: “We will experience extreme staffing shortages across our maternity service from 1 August due to current vacancies, annual leave commitments and maternity leave.

“The clinical view from our senior doctor and midwife is that this would put patients at risk unless we plan ahead.

“As patient safety is one of our highest priorities, we are currently exploring options to ensure that we will still be able to maintain safe staffing levels during this period.

“One option, is to temporarily close the midwife-led unit. We would like to reassure the public that there will be firm plans in place to re-open the unit should it have to close.”

Wycombe MP Steve Baker said he will be watching developments “extremely closely” but trusts the unit will be re-opened should health bosses elect to close it.

But he warned that unless the unit is used more frequently it could close permanently.

He said: “I have to trust what I have been told, which is a temporary closure on safety grounds, and there is no suggestion of this being permanent.

“But it is important for people to know that I have been told anecdotal numbers that the unit is not getting enough use to sustain it in the long run.

“So if people do not start using it, we could have no complaints if it were closed.”

But George Young, who is expecting the birth of his first child on July 17, has criticised the trust's “last minute panic” and fears the birthing centre will not be re-opened.

He said: “We were shocked. If our baby is a couple of weeks late, we will have to change all our plans at the last minute and go all the way to Stoke Mandeville.

“I can't believe they leave planning their summer staffing until so near to the time, it's a last minute panic. They claim it will re-open in November but we have no faith in that.

“This situation has been engineered by the trust's decision to move consultant led maternity services away from High Wycombe.”

Guay Ong, spokesman for the Royal College of Midwives, said any closure “would be disappointing for all women and the midwives”.

But said she understood temporary closures "sometimes happen" and hoped any closure would be “as short as possible”.