A PLANNED mass protest against a proposed downgrading at one of the region’s major hospitals has moved a step closer.

A date has now been set for a major rally and march through the streets of Northallerton to express anger at plans for the future of the town’s Friarage Hospital.

It will take place on the afternoon of May 5 - a Saturday - and it is expected that anything between 3,000 and 5,000 people will take part.

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An exact time has still be confirmed but the demo will coincide with the town’s popular May Fair, when much of the High Street is filled with rides and stalls.

The rally itself will be held in the grounds of County Hall, opposite the town’s railway station, and will be followed by a march through the town centre to the hospital itself.

The speakers will include Richmondshire’s Tory MP William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, who has already urged health officials to come up with a "unique solution" to keep the threatened services at the Friarage.

The event is likely to include road closures and talks are to be held with the police and the highways department as well as local businesses.

The protesters are furious at proposals which could see children’s services at Friarage reduced to out-patients only - a move which would result in the hospital's maternity unit becoming a midwife-led unit for straightforward births only.

One of the key figures behind the demo, Richmondshire District Council leader John Blackie, said: “The fight for the Friarage has absolutely rock solid support amongst the 150,000 people in the communities across the 75 miles of rural North Yorkshire the hospital serves.”