Councillors condemn threat to baby unit

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RICHMONDSHIRE district councillors have come together to condemn proposals to close services for mothers and children at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton.

Plans are currently being drawn up for the future of the hospital’s maternity and paediatric units.

About 1,200 babies are born there each year, and the hospital’s area includes about 150,000 residents, but both services could go to the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough.

Both are highly regarded by Richmondshire mothers and mothers-to-be, many of whom choose the Friarage even though similar facilities at Darlington Memorial Hospital may be nearer.

Richmondshire District Council’s leader John Blackie has raised grave concerns over the review by the National Clinical Advisory Team (NCAT), which he claims would lead to a major downgrade in NHS provision in both Richmondshire and Hambleton.

Meeting this week, councillors voted unanimously to support a proposal to advise NHS health chiefs that it “considers it essential for the peace of mind and well being of residents” that the services stay at the Friarage.

“It is well known that proposals are in existence to potentially withdraw these services as a way of addressing a significant funding shortfall for the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which operates both the Friarage and the James Cook University Hospital,” said Coun Blackie.

“We fear that the writing is on the wall – these teams are usually called in to justify proposals of this nature.

“For some it will mean a trek of 60 miles to have a baby, and this may end up as a roadside birth in the back of an ambulance, a totally unsatisfactory and avoidable event.”

The council’s decision will now be conveyed to the NCAT team and other key health organisations involved, as well as other local authorities whose residents are served by the Friarage.