Mr Maples was a Treasury minister when the Rye Hospital was closed. It was later reopened as a charitable trust but yesterday it appeared in his list of Labour's threatened NHS closures.
Frank Dobson, the Health Secretary, accused the Tories of running a list of "fantasy closures". These included the closure of either the Freeman Hospital Newcastle or the Royal Victoria Infirmary; four out of five hospitals in Morecambe Bay; and two of the East Surrey or Crawley Hospitals and Ashford or St Peter's Hospitals.
"In each case, there are no closure plans at all. There are merely mergers of trusts taking place, which will improve services for patients," said Mr Dobson. One closure in Rye was carried out by the Tories two years ago, he added. A Tory spokesman said: "Yes, trusts have merged but as far as we are concerned, no guarantees have been made that the hospitals will not be closed down. Frank Dobson has still not come up with a list of those staying open. Until he does, we stand by our claims. We do not have the same access to information as Mr Dobson."
The Health Secretary said: "There will be some changes in the service some local hospitals provide, including some closures. This is nothing new. But the Tories' talk of a systematic pre-planned programme of hospital closures is simply nonsense."
Mr Dobson did express concern about the closure of small maternity units across Britain. "There are changes going on and some of these changes I am very dubious about. One of the biggest problems is the threat to maternity units in smaller hospitals," he said.
"It comes not from the Government but from the fact that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists like bigger units because they don't like to recognise smaller units for training purposes. I want to look into that."
His remarks on BBC radio were welcomed by the Royal College of Midwives, which is campaigning for women to be given wider choice over maternity units. Louise Silverton, deputy general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, called on Mr Dobson to order a moratorium of all closures, pending a review. "We are not saying no unit should ever be closed but we want to preserve choice for women," she said.
There is growing concern among midwives that smaller maternity units, particularly in rural areas, are closing, leaving pregnant women to travel up to 30 miles for scans, ante-natal care and to give birth.
The Royal College has written to Mr Dobson warning that women are being denied choice in maternity units because the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Paediatricians prefer larger units for training their members.
Roy Lilley, page 19Reuse content