Fears raised alternative health plans could fall on deaf ears

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A SENIOR councillor battling plans to downgrade maternity services at a North Yorkshire hospital yesterday said he fears pleas for last-ditch alternative plans drawn up to try to keep services are falling on deaf ears.

The proposed measures - which have provoked a storm of protest - would see full maternity care at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton downgraded to a midwife-led unit, meaning women due to have complicated births would have to travel to places including Darlington to have their babies. Young patients may also have to travel to other hospitals for inpatient children’s services.

However, the leader of Richmondshire District Council, Coun John Blackie, has embarked on a series of visits to hospitals in Scotland which are similar in size to the Friarage to try to persuade health chiefs to maintain services.

Public talks were recently completed on two options which would see maternity services downgraded and the matter is to be debated at a meeting in February. Bosses have said they are willing to consider new options and some were presented during the consultation, including plans from Richmondshire District Council.

Coun Blackie says NHS managers in Scotland operating in similar-sized hospitals had come up with staffing models which could be employed locally costing around £200,000 extra annually.

The model suggests an “extensive rotation” of the consultants and the clinical staff between the James Cook University Hospital (JCUH), at Middlesbrough and encouraging mothers considering giving birth at JCUH to instead opt for the Friarage.

But Coun Blackie said he fears, following meetings with the Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commission Group (CCG) about its alternative plan, the CCG was trying to “undermine it at every opportunity”.

Yesterday, however, the CCG stressed final decisions would be made by GPs.

Coun Blackie said he was now planning to courier copies to local GPs to try to gain support for the council’s alternative plans ahead of February’s crunch meeting. “We have submitted a very safe and sustainable alternative model, retaining 24/7 consultant-led services, and addressed GPs concerns about affordability by researching similar small hospitals operating elsewhere in the UK,” he said.

“We hope our appeal will prompt GPs to think very carefully before voting to lose forever these absolutely essential and hugely valued services.”

Earlier this year, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt rejected calls for a full review of the controversial plans after he had asked the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP) to look at the issue. After receiving the IRP’s report, Mr Hunt said a consultation should now go ahead. However he added in a letter: “The consultation may also wish to invite new options.”

Dr Vicky Pleydell, chief clinical officer at NHS Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby CCG said yesterday: “As set out in our constitution, the CCG’s Council of Members (a representative from each GP practice in our area) will be making the decision on the option to take forward for children’s and maternity services at The Friarage Hospital.

“The Council of Members have already been provided with copies of all the clinical evidence they need to make an informed decision, including detailed information on the two options we consulted on, and the three new proposals that were submitted by members of the public.

“The CCG’s senior management team will not be responsible for making the decision, as it is important that decisions which affect the care of our patients are made by local GPs.

“We firmly believe that GPs in our area have the most knowledge of their local communities and will ensure the services we commission are high quality, safe and sustainable.”