WILLIAM Hague has urged councillors to refer a decision to downgrade a hospital’s maternity and paediatric services to a Government advisory body.

The Richmond MP says he fears hospitals, and in particular Darlington Memorial Hospital, may struggle to cope with the extra demand created by a move to change the consultant-led 24-hour services at the Friarage Hospital, in Northallerton, to short stay assessment and midwifery-led units.

Mr Hague’s call follows Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby clinical commissioning group (CCG) dismissing any option which would see a more comprehensive service retained at the North Yorkshire infirmary.

The CCG says it has to limit the services at the Friarage in the interests of patient safety, and if its plan goes ahead, the maternity unit there would only be suitable for mothers expecting a straightforward birth who do not wish a consultant to be on site.

Campaigners say the move will lead to a large proportion of the 1,250 annual births at the Friarage taking place at nearby hospitals, including the Darlington Memorial and James Cook University hospitals.

They say many mothers will not want to face the prospect of being transferred by ambulance in the event of an emergency, while the CCG has stated the midwife-led unit would close if it failed to attract 300 births annually.

In a letter to North Yorkshire’s health scrutiny committee, which is meeting today (March 14) to decide whether to refer the CCG’s decision to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP), Mr Hague said the move needed to be examined by the panel to address a “very serious level of public anxiety”.

Mr Hague said: “I still have strong concerns about the assurances provided by other local healthcare providers, especially Darlington Memorial Hospital, that they have the capacity to handle safely and effectively any extra demand as a result of these changes.

“We need concrete assurances and firm detail about how local hospitals would handle the greater demands and we must hear more from Darlington Hospital about their triggers to manage a situation where there was an increase above the most likely activity level.”

It is understood the health scrutiny committee is likely to refer the move to the IRP, which would force the CCG to postpone launching the service changes in October.

A South Tees NHS Trust spokeswoman said it had built capacity for up to 600 more mothers giving birth a year, 1,000 extra special care baby unit cot days, 300 children as day attenders and 500 children as inpatient stays at the James Cook University Hospital.

County Durham and Darlington NHS Trust did not respond to a request for a comment.