Rallying call to save services

Northallerton's Friarage Hospital
Northallerton's Friarage Hospital

A CALL to provide a united front against plans which could see full services for mothers and children axed at Northallerton’s Friarage Hospital has been launched by a council leader.

A date for a mass rally has now been set and Foreign Secretary and Richmondshire MP, William Hague, will address the crowds that gather to protest against plans to switch the Friarage Hospital’s maternity and paediatric units to James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough.

Leader of Richmondshire Council, Coun John Blackie, is now urging supporters of the campaign to mount public pressure on the NHS and has called on communities to stage their own individual protest during a consultation on the proposals.

He 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.

“This support needs to be translated into public pressure on the NHS and I ask that all district councillors encourage all the individual health communities in or serving their wards, be it mothers-to-be circles, playgroups, schools, grandparents get-togethers, social and voluntary organisations and so on, to make their own individual protest during the forthcoming public engagement period lasting between now and June.”

The protest rally will take place in Northallerton on the afternoon of Saturday, May 5 and it is expected to attract over 3,000 people.

The crowds will assemble in the grounds of County Hall and expecting mothers will lead a march through the town centre to the Friarage Hospital itself. An exact time has yet to be confirmed.

Mr Hague claims the move would leave Yorkshire Dales mothers-to-be with what will be one of the longest journeys to access key services in England and he is understood to have already met Health Secretary Andrew Lansley over the closure.

Mr Lansley has now been confirmed to be visiting the Upper Dales Health Watch in Hawes on March 15 in order to discuss the proposed changes, which if accepted could come into force early next year.

There has been a growing backlash against the controversial plans, which follow a review by the National Clinical Advisory Team (NCAT) and go out for a three-month public engagement exercise next month ahead of a formal public consultation.

More than 1,250 babies were born in 2010-11 at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton, making it the smallest maternity unit in the country.

But leading specialists are warning it is unsustainable to maintain full paediatric services at the hospital which will have a knock-on impact on maternity care.

Coun Blackie said: “There is complete agreement that James Cook University Hospital is an excellent hospital for complex healthcare episodes such as heart by-pass and cancer. The problem is that for nearly all the residents of Richmondshire, it is too far away to provide the unpredictable yet urgent care required when having a baby.”

The South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs both the Friarage and James Cook hospitals, says it is considering the NCAT report.