The chief executive of the University Hospital of North Staffordshire has apologised over the way the decision on a date to move consultant-led maternity services out of Stafford Hospital was handled.
In a letter circulated to Stafford nurses and medics he said that UHNS has been "working towards" a date early in the New Year for the transfer of maternity.
This was an "internal" date, but ended up being made public after managers responded to a question from a member of staff at a staff meeting.
"We had an internal date in mind but we wanted to be sure that it was workable with our transition plans before we made it available to stakeholders," Mr Hackett wrote. "However, the date was discussed at a staff meeting and was subsequently made public before we were ready."
Meanwhile, in a press release from UHNS associate medical director Gavin Russell said plans were still to be finalised. He said consultant-led obstetrics needed support from surgery and anaesthetics to operate safety - and acute surgery was due to move from Stafford to UHNS in January.
But campaigners have reacted with fury both to the move of maternity and the way it has been handled by NHS bosses.
Support Stafford Hospital protest group founder Cheryl Porter said she was outraged by the move, which she said made previous promises of a "double lock" of independent reviews of major decisions affecting patients worthless, as well as a government pledge of a fresh look at the future of maternity services.
"We are looking at every possible means to fight this and we will not give up," she said. "Moving maternity is an absolutely ludicrous move which is doing a grave injustice to the people of Stafford.
Here is the full text of Mark Hackett's letter to staff:
"As you may be aware, details of the integration of maternity services between Stafford Hospital and University Hospital of North Staffordshire have been reported in the media. The Trust has committed to sharing information with you in advance of any announcements and I would like to apologise that this did not happen on this occasion.
"The Trust has always maintained that services which are fragile will need to move early in the integration. As such, we have been working towards an internal date for early in the New Year for consultant led maternity services.The Trust has always tried to be open and honest with staff at Stafford Hospital on the need to maintain the services that are currently fragile.
"Yesterday someone responded to a direct question put to them by a member of staff at Stafford. We had an internal date in mind but we wanted to be sure that it was workable with our transition plans before we made it available to stakeholders. However, the date was discussed at a staff meeting and was subsequently made public before we were ready.
"I can confirm that there will be no changes to patient bookings at this time. I would like to reaffirm my commitment to you that we will work with all our stakeholders on these plans and apologise again for the inconvenience this may have caused you."
And here is the press statement issued by UHNS:
Gavin Russell, associate medical director, said: “The Trust is implementing the TSA recommendations, which includes a midwifery led unit at Stafford Hospital.
“There are current and emerging concerns around the safety of certain services at Stafford Hospital, particularly related to acute surgery, anaesthetics, radiology and paediatrics – all of which a consultant led obstetrics unit needs to operate safely.
“We take these safety concerns very seriously and, in line with the move of acute surgery and anaesthetics in January, have therefore started to look at what arrangements we might need to put in place for other services.
“This takes into account safety issues and implementation of the TSA recommendations, which is why we have begun to talk to staff about what those plans might look like.
“These plans are still to be finalised and we await the review of consultant led obstetrics services at the hospital by NHS England, as announced by the Secretary of State in February.”