Battle to save key hospital services to be intensified

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A DELEGATION will travel to the south-west of England on a fact-finding mission about the running of rural hospitals as the battle to prevent the downgrading of key services in Yorkshire intensifies.

Representatives from Richmondshire District Council will visit hospitals in Devon, Dorset and Somerset next week as part of the fight to prevent the downgrading of maternity and paediatric care at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton.

NHS North Yorkshire and York last month backed measures which would see the hospital no longer provide round-the-clock paediatric services. This would have a knock-on impact on maternity care, forcing hundreds of higher-risk mothers-to-be to give birth further afield.

Doctors announced on Wednesday that they have dramatically halted plans for the major re-organisation, although campaigners have stressed that the fight to ensure that services are preserved is far from over.

Council leader John Blackie will head the delegation visiting North Devon Hospital in Barnstaple, Dorset County Hospital in Dorchester and Yeovil District Hospital. The group will travel by train and the £1,200 cost of the three-day visit will be paid by the council.

Coun Blackie, who will be joined by Coun John Robinson and scrutiny officer Penny Hillary, said: “In Barnstaple they have around the same number of births every year as the Friarage and are predicting a bright future...with no problems recruiting consultants – the very opposite to the constant drone of doom and gloom we hear from the local NHS about the Friarage.”

The Friarage Hospital has one of England’s smallest maternity units and health chiefs said there could be no consultation on plans which had no prospect of being implemented. Directors agreed to press ahead with two options for a paediatric short-stay assessment unit and midwife-led maternity service with full outpatient and community services, or an alternative without the short-stay unit. A final decision is expected next spring.

Bosses at NHS Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) unexpectedly announced on Wednesday that they were putting on hold plans for a public consultation on the future of the services at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton.

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 next month refer the consultation process to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

They announced they were halting the consultation in anticipation of a referral.