A HIGHLY controversial decision on the future of children’s and maternity services at the Friarage hospital has already been decided in private, it was revealed last night.

The Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) Council of Members, made up of a representative from every GP practice in Hambleton and Richmondshire, decided in a private meeting on February 7 on its preferred option on the future of services at the hospital.

But news on what they have decided will not be released until Thursday (February 20), when a video of the meeting will be posted online on the CCG’s website, nearly two weeks after the meeting took place.

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The decision will be ratified at a public meeting at the Golden Lion Hotel in Northallerton on Thursday, February 27, when the governing body will discuss how to implement it.

The CCG will answer questions from the public submitted in advance.

Lay chairman Henry Cronin said the meeting was being held in this way because it was important the public could “observe” how decisions were made about their health services.

He said: “As a CCG that has “transparency” as one of its core values, we believe it’s important that people have the chance to hear our discussions and observe how decisions are made about the health services they access.”

But leader of Richmondshire District Council said the way the decision had been made failed to stand up to the CCG’s own claims of transparency.

In November last year (2013), Richmondshire District Council leader John Blackie and colleagues handed over a proposal to NHS managers which set out how round-the-clock consultant-led maternity and paediatric services could be provided at the Friarage for £200,000 a year - rather than the £2.7m figure quoted by the CCG.

The proposal was drawn up after Coun Blackie and other delegates visited other similar-sized hospitals. The proposal received the backing of foreign secretary and Richmond MP William Hague.

But Coun Blackie says local health chiefs refused to circulate their alternative proposal to GPs before they made their decision. Richmondshire eventually sent copies of the alterative model directly to GPs themselves.

“If you read the CCG’s website, on almost every line are words like “honesty”, “open”, “transparency”, “ready to listen to the public”,” he said.

“On the first, crucial test they failed on all counts to live up to the standards they’ve set themselves and that’s very disappointing.

“In the end patients will hold GPs to account, not the management.”

He added: “The meeting on February 20 is rubber stamping, nothing more, nothing less. What we still don’t know is what the decision is.”

The review of services arose in 2011 because health bosses were concerned the hospital was not busy enough to allow doctors to retain their clinical skills and develop new ones.

A public consultation ensued on two options that involved replacing round-the-clock consultant-led care with a midwifery-led unit for low-risk births. Mothers needing more complex care from Hambleton and Richmondshire would be sent to hospitals outside of the county.

The options differed in the kind of paediatric services proposed, with one involving developing a paediatric short-stay unit at the hospital and the other providing only a children’s outpatient service at the hospital.

Public opposition to the changes has been widespread, with a public march through Northallerton in May last year.

An agenda and video of the Council of Members meeting will be available on the CCG’s website on Thursday, February 20 at: www.hambletonrichmondshireandwhitbyccg.nhs.uk Questions prior to the meeting on February 27 can be emailed to; HRWCCG.HRWCCGenquiries@nhs.net by 12pm on Wednesday 26 February.