Services at Oswestry Midwife Led Unit (MLU) are to be suspended until February 25.

The announcement came tonight and is the latest in a lo g succession of closures.

Campaigners have accused health bosses of closing the unit by stealth, saying it is closed so often that mums-to-be have no confidence in it being open when they needed it – and, as a consequence, the number of people using the unit would fall.

The Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust said that was not the case.

Yet in today's statement, the trust said the unit was being closed 'to ensure the safe care of mums using Shropshire’s maternity services'.

It read: "Our mums are choosing to have their babies in our consultant-led unit over our rural MLUs, such as Oswestry.

"To protect their safety during the birth, we are having to look to temporary closures to allow staff to follow our mums’ decisions.

"To remove the uncertainty, the reluctant decision has been taken to suspend services at Oswestry for a longer period.

"Services will be suspended from 8pm today until 8am on February 25. The unit will remain open between 8am and 8pm for antenatal and postnatal services, but will not be able to accept inpatients.

"Since full services resumed at the units on January 18, just two per cent of births have taken place at the rural MLUs, with 10 mums delivering their babies there, compared with 474 at other units – the Shrewsbury MLU, Wrekin MLU and the consultant-led unit at the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford".

Sarah Jamieson, the head of midwifery at SaTH, said: “Despite a successful recruitment campaign which allowed us to reopen our rural MLUs for births at the start of the year, our service continues to see mums choosing the consultant-led unit over rural MLUs.

“We know the subject of our MLUs is an emotive one but this decision, which we have not made lightly, is purely about the choice our women are making and about maintaining their safety.

“With 98 per cent of women giving birth away from our rural MLUs, it is important our midwives are where our mums are.

“By taking this step, we aim to remove the uncertainty that short-notice suspension of services causes. Women will still have the choice of giving birth at four other MLUs as well as our consultant-led unit. Home births will also be maintained during this period.”