Campaigners are demanding a “shambolic” vote that could have stalled controversial cuts to health services across Cumbria be re-run.

It comes after under-fire councillors blamed confusion and misunderstanding for walking out before the end of the key meeting.

Had they remained, their votes are likely to have prevented a controversial u-turn by the Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee - potentially halting plans to close cottage hospital beds and downgrade children’s services.

Protesters are now calling for it to be re-run, with all members present.

Chaos erupted following a special meeting of the health scrutiny committee on Wednesday - held to decide whether members should “call in” controversial decisions about the future of local health services.

Members initially voted in favour of referring three matters - closing community hospital beds in Wigton, Alston and Maryport; downgrading paediatrics in Whitehaven; and potentially centralising consultant-led maternity services in Carlisle - to health secretary Jeremy Hunt.

However after discussions with health bosses, the final formal vote saw councillors backtrack on all but maternity.

However by this point there were just seven councillors left, with four of the original 11 having left before the end of the meeting.

The missing four have come under fire from campaigners, who feel strongly that their votes could have swayed the final decision.

Three of them have now said they would not have left if they’d fully understood the procedure, claiming it was not made clear.

Cumbria County Council insists it was, but has agreed to review the process in light of the outcry and consider “whether any further action is needed.”

Helen Davison, of Cumbria Health Campaigns Together , said it should be re-run. “I just think it’s completely wrong. The vote should be re-run, this time with the whole committee. We’d demand it,” she said.

When contacted, the missing councillors attempted to justify their absence.

Conservative Jim Bland, who had voted to refer all matters to the health secretary, said he did not think he was eligible to take part in the second vote.

The south Cumbrian councillor said: "I'm not a lead member so I wasn't entitled to vote. That's why I wasn't there. I stayed right until the end of the first meeting and then I left. There was a separate meeting but I'm not a lead member. I voted in the meeting I was involved in."

He added: “If I’d have been there for the second vote, I’d have voted exactly the same way.”

Carni McCarron-Holmes, Labour councillor for Maryport North, also left the meeting - but said she thought she had played her full part, believing only county councillors, not district, were eligible to vote.

Afterwards she said she was "furious and absolutely devastated" at the committee's about turn. "I left that meeting at about 4.40pm after the chairman said he wanted to speak to the senior councillors,” she said.

“I went up to the group then and was told that I could go home. I thought all the district representatives were leaving. I had had my say and I honestly believed we had won the vote. We had. It was 10-0 in favour of referring.”

In the end the community hospitals vote was 4-3 against referral, meaning Mrs McCarron-Holmes could have tied the vote.

After hearing about the u-turn she added: “I have no idea why or what happened. The whole thing is a total farce.”

Raymond Gill, a Labour Copeland councillor and vice-chairman of the committee, said he knew there was going to be another vote - but did not realise it was that day.

"I was there for all of the items on the agenda. They said there would need to be another meeting but I didn't know it was going to be straight after. If I'd known I would have stayed. There was some confusion in the information I was given,” he said.

In the initial votes, Mr Gill voted to refer all three matters.

However Mark Wilson, Labour county councillor for Ulverston East, said: "I had to get back for family reasons. We've got some work going on at the house. The weather conditions were bad and I also had other meetings to get to."

A county council spokeswoman insisted the decision making process was set out in the committee papers and confirmed at the start of the meeting.