CAMPAIGNERS are reeling after Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt ruled today that vital maternity services will be switched from Huddersfield to Halifax.
Her decision will dismay 40,000 people who put their names to petitions against the move.
Protest leaders urged the town's people to show their feelings by turning out in force for a march in Huddersfield tomorrow.
They want supporters to join in on at least part of the route from St Luke's Hospital, Crosland Moor, to St George's Square in the town centre.
Marchers set off at 11am expecting to reach the town centre at 12.30pm.
Patricia Hewitt's decision means that all consultant-led maternity services will be transferred to Calderdale Royal Hospital in Halifax.
Huddersfield Royal Infirmary will be left with a midwife-led maternity unit - forcing mothers who need specialist services to travel to Halifax.
Mrs Hewitt said: "Having undertaken a thorough review, the Independent Reconfiguration Panel has advised me that the proposals for reconfiguration of maternity services in Calderdale and Huddersfield represent the most appropriate way to deliver safe, effective and accessible maternity services for the 21st century.
"I am satisfied, based on the evidence identified by the IRP, that the proposed models of midwife-led units are sustainable, and, in conjunction with the findings relating to the previous concerns, are supportive of the normality of childbirth."
The campaign to keep a full maternity service in Huddersfield was backed by the Examiner.
Examiner editor Roy Wright and news editor Neil Atkinson met Mrs Hewitt in Westminster, along with MPs Barry Sheerman, Kali Mountford and Mary Creagh, to try to persuade her to overturn the decision.
Family doctor Jackie Grunsell, who founded the Save Huddersfield NHS campaign and was later elected as a councillor on the issue, said she was outraged by today's announcement.
She said: "I'm not surprised but I am extremely angry.
"It's another example of bureaucrats going against public opinion - and professional opinion for that matter.
"To describe this panel as independent is a joke, quite frankly.
"To keep the service in Huddersfield would have set a dangerous precedent from the Government's point of view."
Dr Grunsell, who represents Crosland Moor and Netherton on Kirklees Council, said the decision was part of a wider move towards privatisation.
She said: "This decision is in line with the policy across the country to create super-hospitals which are better at attracting private investment.
"I'm absolutely against privatisation, there's no evidence that it benefits anyone. We end up paying more for a worse service."
Barbara Farrand, a founder member of the Save Huddersfield NHS Campaign, said pregnant women would be in danger because of frequent traffic hold-ups on the road from Huddersfield to Halifax.
She said: "I was caught there myself a few weeks ago. It took two hours and 10 minutes to get from Oakes to the Calderdale Royal Hospital.
"It's the worst stretch of road in the country."
Experts on the independent panel reached their recommendation after a series of meetings which included visits to Huddersfield to talk to campaigners.
Dr Peter Barrett, who chaired the panel, said: "The current configuration of maternity services does not provide an optimal or sustainable service for all women.
"Our report highlights that the future service will offer women living in Calderdale and Huddersfield a safer, more sustainable maternity service."
He added: "It is also essential that funding of women's and children's community services is in place, effective inter-hospital transport is provided and agreed transfer times are met by the ambulance service."
A council chief hit out today over the decision.
Clr Robert Light, Tory leader of Kirklees Council, accused the Government and NHS bosses of `kicking the people of Huddersfield in the teeth'.
He said: "What they have done is ignore one of the biggest shows of public feeling and opposition that I have seen in my 20 years as a councillor."
He added: "Many people have put much effort and many hours of their time into campaigning for what they believe is right, and that is local hospital services for local people. They will feel very disappointed today.
"We all appreciate that the NHS and local hospitals are under pressure to make the best use of resources. But they must also listen to public opinion. In this case they have failed to demonstrate having taken any notice whatsoever of the views of local people and those who represent them."
Barry Sheerman, MP for Huddersfield, expressed his deep disappointment at the decision.
"I am shocked that the Independent Reconfiguration Panel's report found the existing maternity services to be unsafe and I am saddened that, after such a strong local campaign to oppose this proposal, these vital local services are to be moved from the area.
"However, this independent report has made some encouraging recommendations for the future of maternity healthcare in the area.
"These include calls for improvements in community home services, and for the Primary Care Trust and the council to work together to improve transport links to and from Calerdale. The report also recommends a transition period for the move of up to two years.
"Although this decision is not what we had hoped for, I welcome these recommendations as they will make a real difference to local people adapting to the change in services."
Kali Mountford, Labour MP for Colne Valley, said the decision was clearly not the one which was wanted.
But she added: "On reading the report, I am satisfied that it was made independently and with clinical needs in mind.
"Crucially, the panel found that safety standards of the current provision could not be maintained - this is a shocking finding and cannot be ignored."
Ms Mountford said the transition period must now be used to build for the future.
She said: "We have been given up to two years to make sure that midwife led units will work in this area and we must work hard to make sure that happens.
"I will be pressing for maximum support in finances, accommodation and training for midwives so that they will be able to provide a world class service to all expectant mums in the area."
Bosses at Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust will now draw up a timetable for the changes.
Martin de Bono, consultant in obstetrics and clinical director for women's services for the hospital trust, said: "These changes are all about making sure that we have a first-rate consultant-led service at Calderdale Royal Hospital, providing safe specialist care for the women of Calderdale and Huddersfield who need it or who choose it.
"It is also an exciting opportunity for us to develop an equally high quality midwife-led unit at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary that the town can be proud of."