NHS managers behind proposals to downgrade maternity and paediatric provision at a general hospital will be issued an ultimatum – consider maintaining the services or face a probe by the Health Secretary.

North Yorkshire county council’s health watchdog said NHS York and North Yorkshire’s refusal to examine retaining the consultant-led services at the Friarage Hospital, Northallerton, at an annual cost of £2.7 million, flew in the face of overwhelming public opinion.

If the proposals are referred to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, no decision would be made on the service’s future until at least next summer.

Councillor Jim Clark, chairman of the council’s scrutiny of health committee, said the primary care trust’s impending public consultation exercise over the proposals was “fundamentally flawed” as it would only present two options.

The first is for a midwiferyled maternity unit and shortstay paediatric children’s assessment unit and the second for a paediatric outpatient service and midwifery-led maternity service.

Coun Clark said in the context of NHS budgets running into hundreds of millions of pounds, £2.7 million did not represent a major drain on resources.

He said: “But we should always pose the question: ‘What price safety?’ The NHS has taken upon itself to decide that £2.7 million is too much for the people of Hambleton and Richmondshire.”

Coun Clark said North Yorkshire residents felt “badly let down” and appealed to the trust to backtrack.

He said: “The NHS can be left in no doubt about the strength of feeling about these changes and I think it unacceptable that the NHS will not be consulting on the option that scored highest on patient safety, clinical effectiveness, patient experience and equity of access.

He said: “If they don’t we will have to refer it to the Secretary of State and that is the view of my committee.”

Richmondshire MP William Hague has said he is “deeply disappointed” by the trust’s decision not to consider retaining the services and urged residents to express their objections to the proposals in a “vigorous public debate”.

When asked yesterday if it would reconsider the proposed options, the trust said maintaining existing services was “not feasible given that significant investment would be required to increase the staffing levels to address the issues around quality and safety”.

It said even if more money became available the general paediatric service would not be clinically sustainable due to recruitment issues as consultants wanted to specialise.