THERE were plenty of things to do on Saturday afternoon. Summer had arrived, the sun was shining and the weekend was in full swing.

Yet more than 4,000 people opted to give up a huge chunk of their weekend to join a protest march against a recommendation to downgrade maternity and paediatric services at the Friarage Hospital, in Northallerton.

If NHS bosses were in any doubt as to the weight of public opposition to their plan, there should be no uncertainty now.

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The Northern Echo has readily accepted the need to make painful decisions in order to reduce public spending.

With that in mind, it is impossible to retain everything and, sadly, some people will lose services they regard as important to them.

However, the downgrading of the Friarage has proved to be such an emotional and divisive subject that it is surely time for a rethink.

Richmondshire MP William Hague clearly thinks so and, after joining the marchers this weekend, the former Tory leader pledged to keep up his lobbying of the health secretary, Andrew Lansley.

We sincerely hope Mr Hague is as good as his word. A representative of the Public and Commerical Services Union accused the foreign secretary of indulging in a PR exercise on Saturday, but in his role as a constituency MP, he has consistently spoken out in defence of the Friarage.

Hopefully, NHS officials will take notice of this weekend’s rally and reassess their options. If not, it is down to Mr Hague to ensure that local voices are heard at the very highest levels of Government.