A council leader embroiled in a row with Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group over its plans to withdraw 24 hour maternity consultant cover at the Friarage Hospital has submitted his own proposal to save it.

It is one of three proposals submitted to the CCG following a public consultation about children’s and maternity services at the Friarage Hospital

Among other changes, the CCG plans to replace the consultant-led cover with a midwife-led maternity unit. This would mean mothers with high-risk pregnancies would need to give birth at the James Cook University Hospital instead.

John Blackie, leader of Richmondshire District Council, said some expectant mothers would have need to travel up to 60 miles to have a baby under the proposals. “That is simply too far,” he added.  

While he praised the next nearest hospital, James Cook University Hospital, as a “wonderful tertiary hospital for very complex illnesses,” he described its “overstretched” maternity unit as “running at over capacity” and “little more than a production line”.

Cllr Blackie also expressed concerns that the downgrading of the maternity services could lead to them being scrapped altogether.

He said: “A midwife-led unit will only have a very limited future and sooner or later we’ll be having a consultation to stop that service.” His proposal lists 18 midwife-led units that are either closed, temporarily closed or threatened with closure.

“We are surrounded by news of doom and gloom and dreadful dreadful occurrences at hospitals,” he said. “Here we are dismantling a centre of excellence. It simply doesn’t make sense.”

Last month, CCG chair Henry Cronin accused Cllr Blackie of “bullying and intimidating” behaviour during a heated public meeting about its plans. Cllr Blackie in turn accused the CCG of seeking to “stifle or silence critics of what it proposes to do on the thinnest of pretexts that simply do not stand up to close examination”.

His proposal is supported by William Hague, who, as MP for Richmond, led a 4,000-strong march against the plans in May.  

Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby CCG declined to comment on Cllr Blackie’s proposal, but Vicky Pleydell, its clinical chief officer, said: “Any new proposals presented to us will go through a rigorous assessment using the same framework that we used to develop the original two options for consultation. This will include external independent expert clinical assessment.

“Following this assessment, each one will be judged alongside the present options against a set of agreed criteria by each GP practice within the CCG.”

The CCG is due to present its final recommendation on 27 February 2014.