Health secretary Jeremy Hunt is to be asked to intervene in controversial plans to scale back maternity and paediatric services at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton.
Members of North Yorkshire County Council’s Scrutiny of Health Committee have agreed to refer the issue to Mr Hunt, following widespread public concern over the impact of a proposal to end consultant-led maternity and paediatric services at the hospital.
Two hundred members of the public attended a special meeting of the Committee in Northallerton Town Hall on Thursday night, to voice their misgivings over the proposals.
“There has been a very great deal of public anxiety over the ending of these consultant-led services,” said county councillor Jim Clark, the committee’s chairman.
“The Friarage is widely regarded – quite rightly – as an excellent hospital, providing a first-class service to people across a large rural area who would otherwise have to contemplate travelling long distances for health care.
“The committee believes it would be quite wrong for a decision to be made on this issue without satisfactory alternative options being considered.”
Last week, Foreign Secretary William Hague, who is also the MP for Richmond, called on the committee to refer the issue to Mr Hunt.
In a letter, Mr Hague said: “As you know, I have consistently campaigned against the proposals by North Yorkshire and York PCT and the Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby CCG to downgrade maternity and children’s services at the Friarage.
“There is a clear gulf between the Trust and the CCG’s preferred clinical model and the public desire to maintain paediatric and maternity services as they are.”
Concerns have been raised about the distances women will have to travel to give birth if the proposal goes ahead but health bosses say retaining full services is not clinically sustainable owing to staffing and recruitment issues
NHS North Yorkshire and York has backed measures which risk losing round-the-clock children’s services and full maternity care.
However, doctors later announced they had halted plans for the major re-organisation, in anticipation the decision would be referred to the Government.