Campaigners gathered outside South Tyneside Hospital in protest over the temporary closure of two baby units.
More than 100 people braved the winter weather to stand united in anger over the move taken by NHS bosses last week, to close the Special Care Baby Unit and to suspend births in the maternity suite.
They say the decision was taken due to a shortage of trained staff and on the advice of maternity experts.
Protesters, which included councillors from both Jarrow, Hebburn and South Shields, MP Emma Lewell-Buck and hospital staff, stood armed with banners and placards stood at the gates at the Harton Lane entrance in a show of support for maternity staff and the need to have the units re-opened.
They were greeted by horn blasts from passing drivers in support of their campaign.
The protest was organised by the Save South Tyneside Hospital campaign group.
Roger Nettleship, chairman of group, said: “I am really thrilled today. We have people from all walks of life who have turned out to support the maternity staff who have had their service closed down. This protest is a call to re-open those services at the hospital.
“I am sure the staff feel uplifted in their battle to re-open the service. This is one of the busiest maternity services in the North East and has the best staff in the North East - so how it has come to this I can only think they have an alternative motive in that they want to close the maternity services in South Tyneside.
“The campaigners have been brilliant. I have never been involved in a campaign where so many people have been so involved.
“The campaign is doing a tremendous job in keeping those issues alive in South Tyneside.”
South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck said: “I’m not surprised by the massive turnout because the way the trust has behaved has been appalling.
“They have shut the special care baby unit with limited warning then on Sunday sent an email round staffing quarters in Sunderland and South Tyneside to say that with immediate effects on Monday morning the maternity unit would be closed completely.
“The staff have since come up with a workable rota to keep the unit open. The trust said they would look at it, but it’s now a week on and they still haven’t come back to them.
“We not only have the government battering us but we also have our own trust battering us.
“It is a fantastic campaign and we do have a good chance.”
Councillors from Jarrow’s Constituency Labour Party handed a letter to hospital bosses calling for a rota devised by staff, which could see the unit re-open, implemented.
Coun John McCabe, Political officer for the CLP, said: “Jarrow CLP have been heavily involved in the fight against the closure of the NHS services ever since the closure of Palmer’s Walk-In centre. We have been fighting to save these services at the hospital.
“We have lost the stroke unit, the maternity and special care baby unit and the mental health facility at the Bede Wing.
“It is a steady erosion of the NHS services which we will not tolerate within Jarrow CLP - we are totally against it.
“We want to see our services restored to they were.”
Unison representative Gemma Taylor said: “In the short space of time to call this protest, the turnout has been fantastic.
“We have councillors, MPs, staff and the community who have come together and it sends a clear messages to the hospital bosses.
“We are aware the staff have come up with an alternative rota which would see the unit re-open but as yet we have not heard what the outcome of that is.”
Derek Curry, Head of Midwifery at South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust said: “We are continuing to work very closely with our staff to look at all possible solutions to try and resolve the severe staffing challenges we face in our Special Care Baby Unit. We have been absolutely clear, however, that any suggestions put forward must be safe and sustainable so that we do not end up in a similar crisis situation in the immediate weeks ahead.
“This has been an extremely challenging and stressful time for the staff concerned who have shown tremendous amounts of goodwill and already been working heroically over and above the call of duty to keep services running safely. We have a duty of care to our staff, as well as our patients, to ensure we maintain a safe service and the health and wellbeing of our workforce is of equal concern to us.
“It is vital that whatever solutions are put forward can clearly demonstrate that we are able to consistently meet nationally required safe staffing standards for neonatal care. We will of course keep all stakeholders updated on this situation as soon as we are able to.”
Matt Brown, Director of Operations at NHS South Tyneside CCG said: “Clearly urgent action needed to be taken last week and while this is not ideal, patient safety and staff wellbeing must come first. This difficult decision was taken by the trust following clear, clinical advice from regional experts and we fully support that.
“We all want services to run again as soon as possible but this can’t happen until we know for sure it’s safe and sustainable.
“The public consultation is an open and honest process, on which no decisions have been made. All public feedback gathered during the consultation will be considered along with the clinical evidence to help the two CCGs to make a decision on the final arrangement of the services under consultation to ensure our local hospitals can provide the best possible services and avoid this sort of crisis in future.”