Foreign Secretary William Hague has expressed his disappointment after learning health chiefs have rejected demands to keep full maternity services at a North Yorkshire Hospital.
Health bosses have announced members were in favour of controversial plans – which have provoked a storm of protest – to downgrade full maternity care at the Friarage Hospital, in Northallerton and replace services with a midwife-led unit.
It would result in women facing complicated births having to travel elsewhere including Darlington to have their babies.
Young patients will also have to travel to other hospitals for in-patient children’s services.
The recommendations of the Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) will now be taken to the Governing Board of the CCG on February 27 who will make a formal decision.
Yesterday Mr Hague, who is also the MP for Richmond, said: “I am clearly very disappointed at the recommendation of the Hambleton, Richmondshire, and Whitby CCG to downgrade maternity and paediatric services at the Friarage Hospital.
“It has been my view all along that while there are legitimate clinical concerns faced by the Friarage, these are challenges to be overcome and not surrendered to.
“While I am disappointed by this recommendation, I welcome the news that GPs have insisted on a seven day model of paediatric care, rather than the five that was previously recommended.
“This at least will help to some degree meet the concerns of parents who were worried about access to care should their child need to visit hospital on the weekend. If these recommendations take effect it is vital that we have clear and firm assurances from other local providers, particularly Darlington Hospital, that they have the capacity to handle safely and effectively any extra demand as a result of these changes.
“Travelling to Middlesbrough for maternity services is far too far for many people in Richmondshire and Hambleton and the assurances of sufficient capacity at Darlington need to be fully guaranteed.”
Yesterday Coun Jim Clark, the chairman of North Yorkshire County Council’s health scrutiny committee said a special meeting would be held on March 14 in County Hall at 2pm when he said the matter would be discussed to see if committee members wished to refer the decision to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel.
“I know this will be a great disappointment to a large number of people,” he said.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, rejected calls for a full review of the controversial plans last year 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.”
Some new options were put forward during the consultation but these have been rejected.
Coun John Blackie, the leader of Richmondshire District Council, said: “I am bitterly disappointed and angry, very angry, but the fight will go on. This is far too valuable a service for local communities to lose.”
He added: “What we have finished with is what we started with two and a half years ago.”
Opponents have raised fears women in labour from remote areas including the Dales could face long journeys to give birth.
However health bosses say they are concerned doctors at the Friarage will not be able to retain their clinical skills because there are not enough mums-to-be and children using the services.
Dr Vicky Pleydell, chief clinical officer at the CCG, said: “We have investigated models of service up and down the country, leaving no stone unturned. Other options we looked at did not conform to the high standards we feel it is right to aspire to for our patients.”
“At the extraordinary governing body meeting on February 27, we will be discussing the implementation of the new model.”
The meeting, open to members of the public to observe, takes place at 10am at The Yorkshire Suite, The Golden Lion Hotel, 114 High Street, Northallerton.