HEALTH chiefs planning to downgrade paediatric and maternity services at a community hospital has dismissed evidence presented to it on how to overcome hurdles with staffing.

The South Tees NHS Foundation Trust rejected the findings of Richmondshire District Council (RDC) councillors and officers after a visit to three West Country hospitals in Devon, Dorset and Somerset – hospitals with similar issues of low patient numbers as the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton.

The GP-run Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) leading the proposals has insisted there is no viable way of sustaining the services at the Friarage, because of problems recruiting consultants and middle-grade doctors to run them.

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Leader of RDC John Blackie said visits to North Devon Hospital in Barnstaple, Dorset County Hospital in Dorchester and Yeovil District Hospital demonstrated that many of the reasons put forward by the CCG to support its plan could be overcome.

But the South Tees Trust sent the findings back and said despite “recognising the efforts made by councillors”, it is still of the opinion that there is a real “need for change.”

One of the main issues facing the Friarage is its lack of middle-grade doctors.

It is the only hospital in England working without them, but the Trust said it must gain external approval to train them – and would not get it because the number of children seen is too small.

The report said the Friarage had only junior and inexperienced doctors available to assist consultants.

It added: “The standard recommended is that a child is seen by a consultant or a middle-grade doctor within four hours of being admitted – this is going to be difficult for the Friarage to meet consistently if it continues to operate in the current way.”

Penny Hillary, democratic services support officer at RDC, who visited the hospitals with Coun Blackie, said: “The Trust talks about how Friarage is the only hospital in England without middle-grade doctors – but why is that?

“Other hospitals use specialist or training doctors but this trust will not see that as an option.

“The Trust has said it has difficulties in recruiting the middle-grade doctors – but other hospitals do not seem to have this problem.”