Options considered for future maternity services

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Health chiefs said yesterday that they have received three further options for the future of women’s and children’s services at a North Yorkshire hospital which have come forward during public talks.

Talks have recently been held on plans to downgrade full maternity care at the Friarage Hospital, in Northallerton, to a midwife-led unit, meaning women due to have complicated births would have to travel as far as Darlington to have their babies. Young patients may also have to travel to other hospitals for inpatient children’s services.

Earlier this year, Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, rejected calls for a full review of the controversial plans after he had asked the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP) to look at the issue. After receiving the IRP’s report, Mr Hunt said a consultation should now go ahead. However he added in a letter: “The consultation may also wish to invite new options and not limit respondents to those listed.”

Members of the NHS Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) have now said they have received three alternative options during the recent public talks.

Talks were recently held to look at the options in more detail. “It is envisaged that preferred option going forward will incorporate elements of each of the different options in order that the most appropriate solution for patients develops from the public consultation,” a spokeswoman for the CCG said.

One of the alternate proposals has come from Richmondshire District Council, which proposes different staffing models costing around £200,000 extra annually. It also proposes encouraging more expectant mothers to consider using the Friarage.

Another proposal, put forward by Andrew Newton, from Thirsk, involves investments in community services.

Opponents of the proposals have raised fears women in labour from remote areas including the Dales could face long journeys to give birth while NHS chiefs have said they are worried doctors at the hospital will not be able to maintain and develop clinical skills because there are not enough mothers-to-be and children using the services. Health chiefs are expected to make a decision in February.