Hospital care closure talks on hold

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doctors have dramatically halted plans for a major re-organisation of services at a Yorkshire hospital which risks losing round-the-clock children’s services and full maternity care.

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

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

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

GP Vicky Pleydell, chief clinical officer designate at the commissioning group, said: “In the interest of preserving precious public funds, and the public’s time and effort, the CCG will be pausing the consultation until after feedback from the Secretary of State has been received.

“As we have explained throughout this process, the issues around children’s and maternity services at the Friarage Hospital are complex and our duty, as commissioners, is to ensure they are safe and sustainable for the future.

“We are full committed to working with the scrutiny of health committee and members of the public to ensure they understand the problems faced at the Friarage and the options for solving them.”

The GP commissioning group has agreed with specialists at South Tees Hospital NHS Trust which runs the Friarage and the Department of Health’s expert National Clinical Advisory Team that retaining full services is not clinically sustainable due to staffing and recruitment issues.

They say not only is it difficult to recruit consultants to achieve essential safety and quality standards but clinicians need to work in units where they regularly see large numbers of patients with varied needs so they can maintain clinical skills. They say this is not possible at the Friarage due to the low numbers of children treated, while the maternity unit is one of the smallest in the country.

Under the proposed changes which were due to be put to public consultation, inpatient paediatric care would be transferred to the James Cook Hospital in Middlesbrough, while the Friarage would offer a midwife-led service for low-risk births, with women at higher risk facing journeys to Middlesbrough, Darlington, Harrogate or York.

Last night committee chairman Coun Jim Clark confirmed it was likely the panel would refer the consultation process to Mr Hunt.

He said: “We are asking him to do an independent review because we don’t think it’s in the interests of people in North Yorkshire or Hambleton and Richmondshire not to consult upon a consultant-led service. I believe it is doubtful if they can sustain a midwife-led service. We might be looking again at the service and closing it all together and that’s what concerns me.

“The best service is a consultant-led service and we need to look at how they distribute them between James Cook Hospital and The Friarage.”

He said that the panel are set to meet next month and a decision could be made by Mr Hunt by March. Mr Clark added: “The consultation has not been handled well. They had a scoring system and the consultant-led service came out on top for patient safety, clinical effectiveness, patient experience and equity of access.”