Owen Paterson MP has said health bosses cannot be expected to keep Oswestry’s maternity unit open for births according to current figures.
Speaking to the Advertizer, he said with only one woman giving birth at the midwife-led unit a week, staff could not be expected to “hang around”.
It comes as a proposal to take away births from Oswestry and the other rural units at Bridgnorth and Ludlow, is set to go to public consultation.
The North Shropshire MP said: “The trouble is there is only one birth a week there.
“It is a very popular facility and an important one to have, but they can’t have midwives hanging around.
“We had a huge fight to keep it open 10 years ago, which we won, but I am surprised how little it is now used. Because of that, you can’t expect to keep it open.
“It is a pity to have a local facility and have people not use it, but you can’t force people to use it.”
Campaigner Liz Grayston, from the Save Oswestry Maternity Unit group, said the figures quoted by Mr Paterson are “skewed” and are from 2016 when there was a lot of uncertainly about the future of the unit and when it was closed because of staff shortages.
She said: “The figures of 52 births in 2017 don’t include the six-month closure. By the time that happened, there had already been four months of uncertainty after they broke the news of changing maternity services in December 2016.
“There were also sporadic closures in that time, so all of that is going to impact on the numbers.
“In 2016 there were 80 births, which was more than in 2015.
“I appreciate it’s based on numbers – but they are the ones who are damaging the confidence of women who could use it.
“It is disappointing this is Owen Paterson’s view. He has given up the fight before it has even started.
“The numbers aren’t that much different to what they were 10 years ago, but no-one is challenging or questioning the numbers and how they come about.”
The unit was closed again from 8pm on Sunday to 8am yesterday because of “short-term staff sickness”.
However, those fighting to keep the unit open say women must use it or face losing it.
Ms Grayston said: “How can they say they recruited enough staff? Shrewsbury MLU is closed and a member of staff is off sick and yet they still have to close Oswestry? It is very damaging.
“There are women who are ready to go to Oswestry and want to use it, but then they go and shut it. It is really frustrating.
“People need to use it or they will lose it.”
The closure comes just days after it was reopened following a six-month suspension of birthing services because of staff shortages.