A NHS boss has appealed to campaigners to drop legal action over the closure of a hospital’s accident and emergency department, saying it is wasting public money.

South Tees NHS Trust’s medical director Adrian Clements said the Save Friarage Hospital group’s challenge was continuing as evidence mounted that the changes at the Northallerton infirmary in March due to shortages in consultant cover had not affected safety and were benefitting patients.

Mr Clements also told North Yorkshire County Council’s scrutiny of health committee he wanted a public consultation on the hospital’s accident and emergency service being changed to a 24/7 Urgent Treatment Centre to start as soon as possible, potentially in September.

After being given permission for a judicial review over the changes earlier this month Holly Wilkinson, of the Save Friarage Hospital group, said: “One of the most concerning aspects of this recent move is that it could potentially put lives at risk – and that is simply unacceptable.”

Mr Clements moved to dismiss the claim, telling the committee the trust had “clear evidence” the changes had been safely implemented, but for the new model of care to work in the long-term issues in recruiting clinical staff to work at the hospital needed addressing.

He added: “The local health economy is absorbing the impact of this change. The change has actually improved some of our our patient pathways, bringing in consultants into the patient pathway as early as possible clearly helps care.”

He said senior clinicians on the Yorkshire and Humber clinical senate, which provides impartial advice on proposals for service change that have significant implications for patients, had described the model of care as “exciting and innovative”.

The medical director said it was “critically important” to note that the campaigners had won the ability to proceed to a hearing only on the trust’s failure to consult the public before introducing the change, whether the trust’s communications with the council were appropriate and if the trust had considered the needs of vulnerable patients in the changes.

Mr Clements said the trust and the campaigners had met to discuss drawing the legal challenge to a close, and the trust was awaiting possible terms from the campaigners.

He added: “My own view is the legal challenge should close, it is costing us an awful lot of money. We have to bring legal teams both for the clinical commissioning group and ourselves and we have to employ barristers to represent us in court. You can imagine how expensive that is. The legal costs of rebutting the challenge has been very considerable to both parties. In my view that is not necessarily the best use of public money, but I understand there is a process and there is a legal challenge.”