A SENIOR doctor last night warned that throwing money at a North Yorkshire hospital to solve staffing problems would deplete other health budgets.

However, Dr Vicky Pleydell, lead clinician from the Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said that plans to downgrade Northallerton’s Friarage Hospital’s children’s and maternity services were “not a done deal”.

The Catterick GP told more than 70 people attending the first of nine public meetings to discuss the proposals, that it would cost an estimated £2.5m to boost medical staffing in order to retain a full service.

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Several members of the public said this should be done – but Dr Pleydell warned the meeting, in Thirsk Rural Business Centre, that she did not have that kind of money in the CCG budget and the cash would have to be taken from out-of-hours care or care for the elderly.

Councillor Jim Clark, chairman of the North Yorkshire Scutiny of Health Committee, said he and a number of other councillors and doctors planned to visit a hospital in Banbury, Oxfordshire, which has similar staffing problems to the Friarage.

However, it has higher levels of funding and the group is hoping to learn lessons which might be applied to the Friarage.

The proposals for the Friarage were unveiled three months ago, to much opposition. It followed a visit by experts from the National Clinical Advisory Team – called in after hospital bosses struggled to adequately staff both units.

The team concluded that the inpatient paediatric service is unsustainable and should be converted to an outpatient only service.

This was because of the difficulty in attracting a workforce with the right skills and concerns that very sick children require a unit with a full range of paediatric services, backed up by intensive care facilities, which the Friarage does not have.

Such a move would inevitably lead to the downgrading of the hospital’s consultant-led maternity unit.

Without consultant paediatricians on duty at weekends and evenings, only straightforward deliveries could be handed by a midwife-led maternity unit, leading to a likely drop in births from about 1,200 deliveries a year to about 500.

Mothers at higher risk or who prefer a consultant-led unit would have to have their babies at either The James Cook University Hospital, in Middlesbrough, Darlington Memorial Hospital, Harrogate District Hospital or York Hospital.