A FRESH legal battle could be looming over the future of maternity and children’s services at one of the region’s leading hospitals.

Local health bosses were today, May 28, given the go-ahead to downgrade the services at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

His decision followed advice from the Independent Reconfiguration Panel which ruled out a full review and said the changes were in “the best interests of local woman and children.”

The development was met with outrage by campaigners, led by Richmondshire councillor John Blackie who labelled it “incredibly disappointing.”

He said they would now be going back to their legal advisers to look again into the possibility of mounting a judicial review of the “flawed” decision-making process.

“It is our last chance saloon,” he said. “If there is a case we can take forward – and if we can afford it – we will.”

The Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group first came up with the proposal almost three years ago and it led to a storm of protest.

Even Richmondshire MP William Hague sided with the campaigners, leading a protest march through the streets of Northallerton.

But the IRP has finally decided in the CCG’s favour, with chairman Lord Ribeiro saying: "The quality of patient care has been our primary concern and after considering the matter carefully we believe these changes will ensure the best care for local women and children.

“We have taken into account the clinical evidence about the current and future safety and sustainability of maternity services and the need to make best use of scarce resources, and believe these proposals are the most effective way of meeting the challenges currently facing the Friarage Hospital.”

The CCG’s chief clinical officer Dr Vicky Pleydell welcomed the decision and said the new services would be implemented from October this year.

“We hope that people who have had concerns about these plans will be reassured by the Secretary of State's decision based on independent clinical advice, and are now confident that this is absolutely the right thing to do,” she said.

“This change is supported by all of the local doctors and midwives and we know this will provide safer, better services for local mothers and children which will last into the future.”

The changes will see the Friarage downgrading to midwife-led maternity care and short-stay paediatric assessment services with a consultant-led maternity service provided by Middlesbrough’s James Cook University Hospital and other neighbouring hospitals.