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Formal public consultation begins on controversial proposals for Friarage Hospital, Northallerton
A FORMAL period of consultation which is likely to end in the controversial downgrading of maternity and childrens services at a North-East hosital gets under way on Monday.
Despite widespread public opposition - including a march through Northallerton in May 2012 by thousands of people - a three month period of public consultation is beginning to seek the publics views over the plans.
The consultation by NHS Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) will ask people their views on two options for downgrading services at the Friarage Hospital, in Northallerton, North Yorkshire.
Health bosses are worried that doctors at the Friarage will not be able to retain their clinical skills and develop new ones because there are not enough mums-to-be and children using the services.
In the long term they believe the current services are unsustainable and could become unsafe.
Both options involve setting up a midwifery-led maternity unit for low-risk births and expanding activity levels at the consultant-led units at The James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough, and Darlington Memorial Hospital to deal with the extra admissions.
Existing community midwifery and outpatient services would continue to be provided in the area.
The options differ in the paediatric services proposed.
Option one involves developing a paediatric short-stay unit at the Friarage. Option two, which involves providing only a children's outpatient service at the North Yorkshire hospital, is the CCG's preferred option.
Campaigners battling to maintain the current consultant-led maternity and children's services at the Friarage had called for a full, independent review of the services.
They wanted the CCG to consult over a third option; to look at keeping the service as it was.
But their demands were rejected in May by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
At the time Councillor John Blackie, whose Upper Dales ward will be among the areas hardest hit by the decision, said: "The Secretary of State has delivered a terrible blow, meaning the community is facing proposals they have overwhelmingly rejected and the local NHS getting their own way."
Dr Vicky Pleydell, Chief Clinical Officer for Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby CCG, said: "Over the last year we've been working hard to find the best possible solutions which offer the highest quality of care, as well as taking into account the needs of local people now and in the future.
"Before we go any further, we're giving local people, staff and patients the chance to give us their comments." Public meetings (with dates in brackets) will take place at the following venues: Thirsk Racecourse (September 18), Richmond School (September 25), Hambleton Forum, Northallerton (September 28), Catterick Leisure Centre (October 1), Masham Methodist Church (October 3), Tennants Auction House, Leyburn (October 8), Bedale Hall (October 14), Hawes Primary School (October 17), Stokesley Town Hall (October 21).
All meetings start at 7pm apart from the Northallerton meeting which starts at 10.30am.
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