GPs say one of North Yorkshire’s main general hospitals could soon be in a position where it is unable to treat seriously ill patients – and they are being kept in the dark about the development.

The Friarage Hospital, in Northallerton, serves a rural population of 122,000 people in an area of approximately 1,000 square miles between the outskirts of York and Darlington.

But GPs say there is a lack of anaesthetic and Intensive Care Unit cover at the Northallerton hospital, meaning seriously ill patients are sent mainly to Middlesbrough.

They also claim South Tees NHS Trust, which runs the Friarage and James Cook hospitals, has no clear plan for rectifying the situation.

One GP, Dr Duncan Rogers, is particularly concerned at the Friarage Hospital’s loss of training status for the middle grade of doctors in training for anaesthetics. This grade of doctor provides in-hospital cover and without them it is believed anaesthetics cover at the Friarage will become unviable from September.

Compounding the problem, it is also believed three anaesthetists will retire in the following three months.

As a result of the changes, Dr Rogers and other local health professionals fear from September the hospital will not be able to accept serious medical admissions and will have to reduce the type of surgery it can offer – effectively making the Friarage a “cold” hospital for elective treatments.

Northallerton GP Dr Rogers said: “The trust did try to recruit staff grade doctors and that wasn’t successful and they haven’t tried again.

“They haven’t replaced consultants and haven’t got arrangements in place for consultants from James Cook hospital to provide cover.

“We’re now left with no further plan for how anaesthetics will be covered overnight and so nobody with a serious medical illness or needing acute surgery can be admitted to the hospital.

“From September the lack of anaesthetic cover at the hospital means they won’t be able to accept serious medical admissions or carry out serious medical surgery. It also means a reduction in the type of planned surgery where a patient could potentially be ill overnight.”

Furthermore, Dr Rogers says the trust has not kept GPs or the public informed. He says he has approached staff for more information and they told him they were not allowed to discuss the issue.

“It might be the right thing for a patient to travel further to a specialist centre, but this is something that will affect a lot of people and at the moment the public has no idea whatsoever,” he said.

“It needs to be discussed openly and for the public to understand the implications of what is about to happen.”

He said the development could also make working at the Friarage less attractive to existing consulting staff because the lack of acute cases would prevent them from developing their expertise or experience. He said it would also make it difficult to recruit GPs in the Hambleton and Richmondshire districts as they would not be able to train in acute medicine at a local hospital.

Proposals for overhauling the way the NHS works – outlined in the region’s Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) – envisage that by 2020 there will be just two specialist emergency hospitals in the region; Middlesbrough’s James Cook University Hospital and either Darlington Memorial or North Tees at Stockton.

North Yorkshire County Councillor for the Upper Dales, Cllr John Blackie said in light of this he couldn’t see how the James Cook University Hospital could cope with the increase in patients, which he said already appeared “swamped” by admissions.

“It’s undermining the James Cook hospital’s ability to perform as it needs to do as a centre of excellence, because how will it cope with the numbers?" he said.

He added: “It’s worse to actually hear that it’s being done by stealth, behind closed doors, with absolutely no consultation whatsoever. We’re hearing about it from concerned professionals working within the NHS who feel that if nobody speaks out there will be nothing left in the future that you would expect at a major hospital.”

South Tees NHS Trust said it did not wish to comment on the matter.