Mums will be transferred to another hospital if their baby is due to be born before 32 weeks, in a new neonatal plan agreed by bosses in County Hall.

Essex County councillors chose to approve plans to “redesignate” Southend Hospital’s neonatal unit from level 2 to level 1 on Thursday, which would result in a reduction of staff based at the unit.

Concerns have been raised that this could see critically ill babies deferred to Broomfield Hospital and Basildon Hospital.

The NHS claims only 14 families and babies had to be moved in their pilot scheme, out of more than 3,600 babies delivered at Southend in 2023.

Essex county councillor and Basildon cabinet member for health, Jeff Henry, said: “The decision makes perfect sense to me and if the unit could be put to better use, then it would be beneficial.

“A pilot scheme has been in force for a year and a lot of Essex County Councillors agreed to endorse and approve the plans. It now must be put before Southend Council which could be very different, however.

“This ‘downgrading’ is simply a change of service around the proven use of the neonatal unit, I would rather our resources are going where we need them, rather than were it is ‘nice’ to have them.”

He added: “We are overprovisioning, and it is a waste of resources.”

Southend independent councillor, Tricia Cowdrey, wants further consultation with parents and families over the plans.

She said: “If a mother and baby were unable to get a Basildon hospital bed and were moved to Broomfield, the rest of their family in Southend may have to travel miles to see them.

“We have no arrangements for transport across the three hospitals.

“Where is the consultation? Where is the information on how this impacts babies and their lives, how does it affect the ambulance service?

“Babies are precious, we can’t simply pop them all over the county.”

Nicki Abbott, interim managing director of the women’s and children’s division at Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We are working through the relevant scrutiny and governance procedures and no permanent changes will be made until this process is complete.”