THE Health Secretary is to rule whether alternatives to replacing a consultant-led maternity unit with one run by midwives has been thoroughly examined.

Jeremy Hunt asked the NHS Independent Reconfiguration Panel to review Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby clinicial commissioning group’s plans for the Friarage Hospital, in Northallerton, last month.

The proposals also include creating a short-stay paediatric assessment department to replace its 24-hour children’s department.

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North Yorkshire County Council’s health scrutiny committee referred the plan to the minister to ensure all options were properly explored.

The committee said while it had been proved changes at the units were necessary to ensure patient safety, it remained unconvinced all efforts to find a solution had been exhausted.

The panel examined the proposals last year and advised it would only be necessary for NHS bosses to hold a public consultation on its two preferred options, providing a clear explanation of the case for change was made.

The panel said today (May 16) it had completed its initial assessment in less than a month,following warnings by Richmond MP William Hague and South Tees NHS Trust that the services were increasingly fragile due to staffing issues.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said it remained unclear when Mr Hunt would announce whether a full review of the proposals was necessary.