CAMPAIGNERS devastated by a decision to scale back children's and maternity services at a general hospital have vowed to fight on.
The decision to press ahead with the scheme at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton has angered opponents, who are considering challenging it through a judicial review or by referring the matter to the Health Secretary.
Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby clinical commissioning group (CCG) said pregnant women and children needing complex care would now need to seek treatment at other hospitals, such as James Cook University Hospital, in Middlesbrough or the Darlington Memorial Hospital.
John Blackie, leader of Richmondshire District Council, has slammed the CCG for not listening to patients concerns.
And he added: "The fight will go on. Were going to take this fight all the way to the very end, to the Secretary of State for Health."
The plans, which were first unveiled in 2011, sparked protests, including a 9,000-signature petition and a march through Northallerton.
Protestors claimed the proposal would risk patients' health by forcing patients to travel further, and said a proposed midwife-led maternity unit would have a short-term future as most expectant mothers would opt for deliveries with doctors on site.
But the CCG said the current 24-hour consultant-led paediatric and maternity services at the Friarage, and alternative options to opening a proposed midwife-led unit and a paediatric short stay assessment unit, were unsustainable and unsafe.
The group has decided children should only be treated at the Friarage, from 10am and 10pm, seven days a week, but children who are very sick will be referred to the nearest major hospital for specialist inpatient care.
Vicky Pleydell, the CCG's chief clinical officer, said women at low risk of complications would benefit from the new midwifery-led unit, as it would offer less medicalised model of delivery.
Dr Pleydell said it had proved difficult explaining the Friarage's problems with sustainability and safety to the public, as people assume if hospital services exist they are safe.
She added: "We have done everything we can to find an alternative option.
"The bottom line is that it [the Friarage] is not a big enough hospital.
"Standards move on and our idea of what is safe changes."
For a six-month trial period, the CCG has agreed to site an ambulance in Northallerton 24 hours a day for emergency maternity transfers, to address public concerns.
It will also run a shuttle bus five times a day between the Friarage and James Cook Hospital and a taxi service for extraordinary paediatric situations.
But that concession has not persuaded campaigners like Heather Pallant whose children, including a four-week old son, suffer from the blood disorder haemophilia and need regular treatment.
She said last night she feels she now has no option but to "uproot" her family out of North Yorkshire to be nearer the services she believes are vital to their health.
Subject to possible appeals, the changes could be implemented later this year.
Richmondshire MP William Hague, who took part in the protest march, said he was dismayed by the CCG's decision.
He said the Friarage had "surrendered" to the challenges it had faced, and added: "If these recommendations take effect it is vital that we have clear and firm assurances from other local providers, particularly Darlington Hospital, that they have the capacity to handle safely and effectively any extra demand as a result of these changes.
"Travelling to Middlesbrough for maternity services is far too far for many people in Richmondshire and Hambleton and the assurances of sufficient capacity at Darlington need to be fully guaranteed."
Last May, County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation revealed plans to expand its maternity services at Darlington Memorial Hospital by launching a midwife-led maternity unit alongside its consultant-led service.
Sue Jacques, the trust's chief executive, said: "Based on our current deliveries and the expected increase, we will have capacity in terms of the environment already in place, likewise in paediatrics."
North Yorkshire's scrutiny of health committee will hold an extraordinary meeting at County Hall, in Northallerton, on March 14 to examine whether the CCG has properly examined alternative options.
The CCG will ratify the decision at an open meeting of its governing body at 10am on Thursday, (February 27) at The Golden Lion Hotel, Northallerton.