DR Gray’s children’s ward will be closed to inpatients for two months.
The shock news came as parents campaigning to have the full service restored at Moray’s flagship hospital gathered at the building to air their concerns.
General manager Alasdair Pattinson and clinical lead Dr Jamie Hogg met with mums outside the hospital on Wednesday and admitted they had "robbed Peter to pay Paul" when making a decision to adequately staff the specialist maternity unit at the expense of the children’s ward.
They said the arrangement was the least risky option.
Last week a Dr Gray’s insider revealed youngsters would not be admitted to ward 2 for overnight stays as of today. Sick children will now have to travel to either Inverness or Aberdeen if they need to be admitted, a round trip from Elgin of at least 80 miles.
In July the immediate threat to maternity services, that would have seen mothers having to travel to the Highland capital or the Granite City to give birth outwith 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, emerged.
A petition launched on Facebook to save the children’s ward at Dr Gray’s Hospital has already gained more than 6700 signatures, with support coming from as far afield as Australia.
On Wednesday parents raised concerns over the extra pressure the overnight closure would put on the ambulance service and other hospitals.
Julie Doel said: "I have two children with Type 1 diabetes, and I’ve just finished chemotherapy. When children with Type 1 diabetes are sick, that requires a lot of management.
"We do everything we possibly can to keep them out of hospital, but we need a hospital here, not one or two hours down the road."
Single parent Deborah Ross said her daughter Emma-Louise had complex medical needs and was in and out of ward 2 a lot.
She added: "This is putting lives at risk. We need to recruit more doctors."
Shona Cameron, whose daughter Ruby has diabetes, is co-founder the petition with Jaye Thomson. She firmly believes her child would have died had it not been for staff at ward 2 at Dr Gray’s.
Shona said: "We were told we were a team, all one service with NHS Grampian. Well it certainly doesn’t seem like that, it feels like we’re discriminated against because of where we live."
She added: "As far as I’m concerned this is not the end of the fight."
The charity Moray Friends of Archie spearheaded a public campaign which raised more than £142,000 in three years, funding a total refurbishment of ward 2 at Dr Gray’s.
Chris Saunderson, who was chairman of the group during that appeal, said: "I am deeply dismayed at the decision of NHS Grampian to shut the children’s ward to overnight admissions. This comes just 15 months after we celebrated the official opening of a fantastic new-look ward which was a real boost to patients, their families and staff working on the ward."
He added: "NHS Grampian has described the closure to overnight admissions as a temporary step, but my concern is that this may ultimately lead to the permanent loss of a children’s ward to Moray, with ill children and their families facing long journeys to Inverness and Aberdeen for treatment which is capable of being delivered locally.
"The people of Moray showed amazing community spirit to help us raise a fantastic amount of money, which the Archie team used to bring about a wonderful transformation of the ward, and they will be justifiably concerned at this decision.
"I would urge NHS Grampian to find a solution as quickly as possible so that a fully functioning children’s ward, a facility Moray deserves, can be restored to Dr Gray’s Hospital."
Mr Pattinson said he was hopeful another junior doctor would be available to come to Dr Gray’s in October.
He added the situation at the hospital was "far from ideal" and he and others were looking at other potential recruitment options, including the creation of 10 clinical development fellow posts.
Mr Pattinson urged those with very poorly youngsters to continue to bring them to accident and emergency in Elgin rather then transport youngsters to Raigmore or Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.
He said: "Families must still come in to A&E if they have an emergency condition, as they already do. A clinical decisions will be made as to where best the children will be looked after thereafter."
Mr Pattinson added: "We have six children booked in for elective procedures such as adenoids and grommets. We are in discussions with Highland as to how we deal with those."
He said there were recruitment difficulties for the NHS across the UK, and a wider campaign was needed to encourage medical staff to move to Moray.
Earlier this week discussions were held between Dr Gray’s management and director of medicine with NHS Education Scotland, Stewart Irvine, to look at way to fill junior doctor vacancies. The meeting was a chaired by Moray MSP Richard Lochhead.
Mr Lochhead said: "Steps need to be taken to identify a solution in the short and long term to ensure the children’s ward and Dr Gray’s as a whole has the staff it needs to serve our communities to its maximum capacity.
"Staff at Dr Gray’s do a fantastic job under a huge amount of pressure and it is vital that NHS Education and NHS Grampian find solutions to these ongoing staffing challenges. I am in constant contact with NHS Grampian as they try to fill the vacancies in the children’s ward and to reinstate a 24 hour service in Elgin.
Moray MP Douglas Ross met with hospital management this week to discuss changes to the children’s ward.
He said: "Whilst I appreciate this was not a decision that was taken lightly and care for children who are ill must be the number one priority, I remain extremely concerned about the continued reduction in services offered at Dr Gray’s."