A health campaigner has hit back at hospital chiefs for trying to dismiss concerns raised by one of their senior maternity consultants.

Jan den Bak, of the West Cumbrians' Voice for Healthcare group, believes alternative ideas that could make consultant-led maternity services in Whitehaven sustainable have not been fully explored.

He is now appealing to bosses to start listening to genuine safety concerns, saying it is not too late to find a better way.

The News & Star revealed last week that Andrene Hamilton, labour ward lead at the West Cumberland Hospital, had written to Prime Minister Theresa May to stress that local clinicians did not support Success Regime plans to centralise consultant-led maternity in Carlisle.

She refuted previous claims that this option has clinical support and said bosses have been repeatedly told by obstetricians and midwives that it would be dangerous for women to travel to Carlisle.

She was backed by Suresh Rao, chairman of the local Medical Staff Committee, who claimed it has been "difficult to get any rational discussion" with bosses about the maternity plans.

But Rod Harpin, medical director at North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, insisted that was not the case, claiming the trust was "fully engaged" with consultants and they agreed that, if consultant-led units could not been kept at both hospitals, alternatives must be explored.

Dr den Bak has hit now back.

"I feel I cannot leave Dr Harpin's reaction to the brave and honest letter from Dr Hamilton unchallenged," he told the News & Star .

"Being fully engaged with obstetrics and gynaecology consultants doesn't mean they are listening or even taking their concerns, and solutions, seriously."

Dr den Bak went on to claim that at least one maternity consultant in Carlisle has said they believe a consultant-led unit in Whitehaven could be made sustainable.

"Some of the other obstetric and gynaecology consultants have different opinions behind closed doors to what comes out in public," he added.

He went on to challenge statements from bosses about issues raised by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

But Dr den Bak said this was not permission to push through changes that are widely opposed by consultants, midwives, ambulance staff, GPs and the wider public.

"The CQC does not have the remit to suggest, let alone ask, the trust to stop providing paediatric and maternity services at the Whitehaven hospital," he added.

He also praised recent recruitment successes, which would help address some of issues flagged up by the CQC.

Dr den Bak pointed out that trust chief executive Stephen Eames and Success Regime boss Sir Neil McKay have both said publicly that they would like to retain 24/7 consultant-led maternity at Whitehaven if possible. Yet when possible solutions have been put forward by clinicians, he accused them of showing no willingness to take these forward.

"What is worse is that, by not providing any evidence that the proposed maternity service is safe and at the same time ignoring or refuting evidence to the contrary, the Success Regime and trust knowingly and openly put the lives of mothers and babies at risk," he said.

"It is not too late to acknowledge that there are better and safer ways. Clinicians and staff who work in west Cumbria deserve to be listened to."