AFTER years of campaigning to save the borough's only maternity department it has been announced the unit will close.

NHS North East London and the City (NELC) announced plans on Wednesday to close the maternity unit at King George Hospital, in Barley Lane, Goodmayes in early 2013.

The plan is expected to be confirmed in January by the board of NHS NELC, meaning campaigners have a matter of months to save the unit.

The decision has been put down to rising birth rates and the need to focus on providing an improved service for expectant mothers at other hospitals.

Commissioning Support Director for NHS NELC, Helen Brown, said: "Changes need to happen so all women will get consistent, safe care.

"We know change like this can cause anxiety so we want to reassure women that the reasons we are making these changes to maternity is to ensure all local women get the safe, high-quality service they deserve."

The plan for the hospital is to turn it into a centre of excellence for planned surgery.

A petition to save the maternity department at the hospital, gathered support of 2,450 signatures and forced a debate at full council last night.

Speaking after the meeting lead petitioner Neil Zammett of the Save King George hospital campaign said he cannot understand the rushed decision to close the maternity ward.

He said: "It doesn't seem to me to make any sense. Whipps Cross doesn't have the physical capacity to cope with extra births."

Proposed changes to the catchment area for births shows that women in the western half of Redbridge will give birth at Whipps Cross University Hospital, in Leytonstone.

To cope with the additional births at Whipps Cross, women in the south of Waltham Forest will give birth in Hackney at Homerton University Hospital in the future.

Women in the eastern half of Redbridge will give birth at Queen's Hospital in Romford, keeping the number of annual births there at 8,000.

A Care Quality Commission report warned last year that women were not safe to give birth at Queen's after the death of seven babies in three months at the hospital.

But now as services have improved at Queen's, the closure of King George's maternity unit can begin.

The petition has gained cross-party support and the whole council has agreed to write to the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, to urge him to withdraw the decision to close the maternity ward.

Cllr Andy Walker of Chadwell Heath ward, who has been involved in the campaign said: "The announcement to close the maternity ward is obviously terrible news. It is a real step-backwards for the NHS locally.

"If the maternity ward does shut in early 2013, we will campaign for it to come back. It will be a disgrace if it closes."

Ilford North MP Lee Scott is also backing the campaign and has written a letter to Jeremy Hunt asking for a meeting to discuss the closure.

Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Trust is currently in £19.9m worth of debt, the second highest amount of debt for a hospital trust in London.                                                                                                                                

The Save King George Hospital campaigners will be protesting over proposals to close the maternity unit outside King George Hospital on October 27.

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