NHS chiefs today said they will not stop the consultant-led maternity unit at Stafford Hospital closing before they have even carried out a review ordered by the Health Secretary.
NHS England is not due to start a review of maternity services at the site until November and it could last for months.
But staff at Stafford Hospital have been told that the unit is due to close in January.
NHS England has now said it will 'respect the decision' of the University Hospital of North Staffordshire - which is taking over the running of Stafford - if it decides to shut the maternity unit.
Campaigners say it makes a mockery of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt's insistence just two weeks ago that 'all options were open' for the maternity unit.
During a meeting with Stafford MP Jeremy Lefroy, Mr Hunt said the downgrade was 'not a done deal' and that bosses would look at the outcome of the review.
Support Stafford Hospital campaigner Cheryl Porter said: "I feel sick about is happening. It doesn't give us much faith in the system after Jeremy Hunt ordered this review and even the Prime Minister said he wanted to look at whether consultant-led maternity could stay at Stafford.
"This is supposed to be a two or three year process and it is being rushed through in months."
It comes as Stafford Borough Council leader Mike Heenan prepares to launch legal action to stop the downgrade going ahead.
Campaigners fighting to retain services at the site continue to camp on the site and organiser Julian Porter said they were 'absolutely livid' and would 'step up the fight'.
Graham Urwin, area director for NHS England in Shropshire and Staffordshire, said: “As requested by the Secretary of State in February, NHS England is to carry out a review of consultant-led obstetrics services at Stafford Hospital. Currently the commissioners and providers in Staffordshire are agreeing their five year plans for all health services in the county.
"Once these have been settled in autumn 2014, NHS England will commission the review from recognised experts who are independent of NHS England and independent of the Trust Special Administrator (TSA) process.
"The safety of services is essential and if, before the review is finished, the service needs to be changed on the grounds of safety, then that is a judgement that the provider trust board will have to make and NHS England will respect that decision.
"Should this occur the review would look at what would be needed for a safe, sustainable, consultant-led obstetric service to be re-instated at Stafford Hospital.”Subscribe to our Newsletter