A funding row which blew up at a hospital during a visit by Baroness Cumberlege, a Secretary of State for Health, has been blamed on a communications breakdown.

Independent London yesterday revealed that the Baroness walked into an embarrassing storm when touring the multi-ethnic women's health project at the maternity department of Homerton Hospital, Hackney.

As she met staff and praised the scheme, which provides a bilingual advocate service to counsel and interpret for ethnic minorities, it was announced that two staff faced the axe.

The East London and the City of London Health Authority, which funds the scheme, said yesterday that a letter suggesting that the contracts of the Chinese- and Vietnamese-speaking advocates were to end this month, was the result of a communications breakdown between departments.

The row at the VIP lunch erupted after Janet Richardson, chief officer of the City and Hackney Community Health Council, which manages the project, revealed she had received a letter from the City and East London Family and Community Health Services stating that contracts for the Chinese- and Vietnamese-speaking advocates would end in October without proof of further funding.

She said yesterday: 'If the jobs are safe then I am elated and relieved.'

On Tuesday she had handed copies to senior managers and raised the issue with Lady Cumberlege.

Peter Coe, general manager of the health authority, accused Ms Richardson of trying to manipulate the occasion to get extra funding.

But yesterday David Benton, director of quality and community relations, said the two part-time posts were safe: 'It seems there was a breakdown of communications which happened in the course of our having to unravel complicated changes to the funding procedures.

'Historically, advocacy services have developed piecemeal with funding coming from various sources. This is a less-than-satisfactory approach and we have endeavoured to identify sources of funding for the various projects delivering services within Homerton.'

During that process a shortfall of pounds 15,000 had been identified for the Homerton project but the authority had agreed to cover the deficit, bringing the annual funding to pounds 181,959, and had notified the CHC of its commitment.