WANTAGE Community Hospital’s maternity beds, which have served thousands of women since the 1980s, could be permanently axed.

The midwife-led unit, which delivered about 100 babies a year, was closed at the end of February due to building work, but has failed to reopen because of staff shortages.

Last night, the Oxford University Hospitals Trust (OUH) which runs the unit said it could not guarantee it would ever reopen.

Danielle Watton, 24, of St Mary’s, Wantage, gave birth to her first son, Charlie, at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, when she was 18. But because of her age, she then spent three nights at the Wantage MLU for extra support before going home.

She said: “I was quite scared of going home because I had this new baby and I was quite young. They showed me how to feed him and bathe him.”

County councillor for Wantage Jenny Hannaby, a member of the health scrutiny committee, said: “They cannot just close a service to the town, there must be some consultation, and I will be taking this further.”

An OUH spokesman said: “There have been staffing issues due to a combination of extended sick leave and problems with filling vacancies. On the grounds of safety, the Wantage MLU has remained closed while the recruitment process continues.”

When asked if the trust could promise Wantage MLU would reopen, she said: “We are not in a position to give any guarantees.”

The community hospital itself is run by the Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, but maternity units are run by OUH.