A HOSPITAL’S maternity and paediatric units could be shut down before a decision is made on whether the services should be downgraded.

NHS bosses warned the services at the Friarage Hospital, in Northallerton, were increasingly fragile due to staffing issues and raised concerns over patients’ safety as councillors referred a decision on their future to the Health Secretary.

North Yorkshire’s Health Scrutiny committee has urged Jeremy Hunt to order a re-examination of plans to change the consultant-led 24-hour services at the Friarage Hospital, in Northallerton, to short stay assessment and midwifery-led units.

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South Tees NHS Trust director Jill Moulton told a meeting of the committee it would probably take Jeremy Hunt and the Independent Reconfiguration Panel six months to provide a response.

She said: “There comes a point when it becomes unsafe to ask staff to do it [run the services].

“I think we are more likely than before of having to make an unplanned service change.”

The meeting had heard Dr Vicky Pleydell, the clinical chief officer of Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby clinical commissioning group (CCG), state how fears over the safety of the units had risen over at least seven years.

She said the CCG had left no stone unturned in examining all the options, but Councillor Jim Clark, the committee’s chairman, said he believed there was still a case to be made for the maintenance of a consultant-led service.

After the meeting, Coun Clark said he was confident the trust would be able to maintain the services until after Mr Hunt made a decision.

He added he had been buoyed by assurances from Sue Jacques, chief executive of County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, that she was “extremely confident” that Darlington Memorial Hospital would be able to cater for a surge in expectant mothers.

She added the hospital would have no difficulty recruiting extra midwives, if needed.

Thirsk and Malton MP Anne McIntosh told the meeting she was concerned over the Darlington hospital’s long-term ability to provide additional services, citing how the trust had moved strokes services there from Bishop Auckland, before moving the service to Durham.

Miss McIntosh said due to the fragility of the services at the Friarage, she would urge Mr Hunt to make a speedy decision.