Health Secretary to be asked to back fresh examination of maternity plans

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Health secretary Jeremy Hunt is to be asked to order a re-examination of plans to downgrade maternity services at a North Yorkshire hospital.

Health bosses have backed the controversial plans to downgrade full maternity care at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton and replace services with a midwife-led unit. It would result in women at risk of complicated births having to travel elsewhere including Darlington to have their babies.

Young patients will also have to travel to other hospitals for inpatient children’s services under the plans agreed by health chiefs.

Yesterday members of North Yorkshire County Council’s Scrutiny of Health Committee agreed to again write to Mr Hunt asking him to authorise a re-examination of plans for women’s and children’s services.

Mr 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 public consultation could 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 a recent public consultation but these were rejected by the Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) last month.

County Councillor, Jim Clark, chairman of the scrutiny committee, said after the meeting: “The committee believes there is still a case to be made for the maintenance of a consultant-led service and we are asking Mr Hunt if there can be a further examination of all the options.”

Opponents have raised fears women in labour from remote areas including the Dales could face long journeys to give birth.

Health bosses have previously said that they are concerned doctors at the Friarage will not be able to retain their clinical skills because there are not enough mothers-to-be and children using the services.