HEALTH Secretary Andrew Lansley will examine the case for downgrading services at one of the region’s hospitals.

The minister has asked for a comprehensive breakdown of why the National Clinical Advisory Team (NCAT) has recommended children’s and maternity services at the Friarage Hospital, in Northallerton, be streamlined.

Mr Lansley is due to visit the Yorkshire Dales and Hawes – one of the areas potentially most affected by the withdrawal of services – on March 15.

He has instructed officials to give him details of all the updates and briefings about the suggestions to convert the paediatric unit to an outpatients-only service and create a midwife-led maternity service at the hospital, which serves 122,000 people across a 1,000 sq mile area.

During his visit to look at healthcare issues affecting remote communities, it is understood the minister could meet pregnant women and mothers from the Upper Dales who could have to travel about 60 miles to The James Cook University Hospital, in Middlesbrough, if the recommendations are enacted.

The announcement of Mr Lansley’s interest in the issue was made days after his cabinet colleague, Richmondshire MP William Hague – who has called for an exhaustive discussion over the suggestions – raised the issue with him.

At North Yorkshire County Council’s health scrutiny committee meeting yesterday, councillors discussed plans to involve a broad spectrum of the community and numerous agencies in the debate raised by the NCAT conclusions.

Dr Vicky Pleydell, of Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group, which requested the NCAT report, told the meeting young families and its partner organisations would be targeted as part of the process.

The Catterick Garrison GP said forums would be held at a variety of venues, such as children’s centres, while Great Ayton councillor Heather Moorhouse called for drop-in sessions to make the discussion more inclusive.

Jill Moulton, of South Tees Hospitals NHS Trust, said there would also be an opportunity for people to air their views on specific pages on social networking sites Facebook and Twitter and that the Ministry of Defence, which uses the hospital, would be asked for its views.

Councillor John Blackie, the leader of Richmondshire District Council, said a group of concerned Dales residents was looking for a centre to run an orchestrated campaign to retain the services.

A public meeting to discuss the NCAT recommendations will be held in Northallerton Town Hall’s Upper Hall at 7.30pm on Thursday.