A SPECIAL meeting has been called by councillors to discuss controversial proposals to cut maternity and children’s services at a hospital in North Yorkshire.
Members of the public are being urged to attend the event to give their view of plans affecting the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton before councillors decide whether to refer the issue to the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Leading specialists and GPs have been backed by health chiefs from NHS North Yorkshire and York over proposals to end 24-hour consultant cover for paediatrics at the hospital which would have a knock-on impact on maternity care at the Friarage.
NHS leaders have rejected calls to keep the existing consultant-led services but recently announced they have decided to postpone a public consultation on the plans which was due to get underway shortly, claiming it would save cash if councillors referred the issue to Mr Hunt as they had pledged.
Committee chairman Coun Jim Clark said: “We are extremely disappointed at this postponement, and also at the fact that the NHS has announced that our scrutiny of health committee will be referring the matter to the secretary of state on procedural grounds.
“This is emphatically not the case. If the committee does decide to refer the issue, it will be because of its concerns about the impact on the residents of North Yorkshire of the reduction in services which we consider to be essential.”
He added: “We do acknowledge that there are issues involving these services at the Friarage which need to be resolved.
“Our concerns do not arise from a desire to be obstructive. But we are talking about essential services which are of enormous benefit to people who live in a large, mainly rural, sparsely-populated area, and it is vital that we do what we can to protect them.”
The next scheduled meeting of the committee will be held at County Hall, Northallerton, on Friday when representatives from the NHS will be asked to explain why they have ruled out further public consultation on the option of retaining consultant-led maternity and paediatric services at the Friarage.
The committee will also hear a report from Richmondshire councillors, who have just completed fact-finding visits to hospitals in the West Country facing similar financial pressures.
Bosses at NHS Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group unexpectedly announced last month that they were putting on hold plans for a public consultation on the future of the services at the Friarage.
The move came after NHS chiefs announced they would not include an option to keep a consultant-led paediatric and maternity service at the hospital in the consultation.
The decision triggered a furious reaction from campaigners among them Richmond MP, William Hague, and prompted warnings North Yorkshire County Council’s scrutiny of health committee would refer the consultation process to Mr Hunt.
Last month they announced they were halting the consultation in anticipation of a referral.
The hospital has one of the smallest maternity units in the country with about 1,250 births a year.
The GP commissioning group says retaining full services is not clinically sustainable due to staffing and recruitment issues.
But campaigners are angry that pregnant women with higher risk births in the area would be forced to travel for their deliveries to hospitals in Darlington, Middlesbrough, York, Harrogate or even Lancaster. They are also complain sick youngsters would no longer be treated overnight at the Friarage but instead be transferred to Middlesbrough for treatment.
The special meeting of North Yorkshire County Council’s scrutiny of health committee will be held at the Allerton Court Hotel, Northallerton, at 7pm on Thursday November 22.