The Department of Health has defended the national review system for NHS reconfiguration proposals after a local councillor claimed the foreign secretary had lobbied officials involved in the controversial plan.

John Blackie, the independent leader of Richmondshire District Council, claims William Hague had intervened by speaking to both the health secretary and to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel, which is considering whether to conduct a full review of a planned shake up of hospital services in North Yorkshire.

Under the proposed reconfiguration by Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group, the children’s and consultant-led maternity services at Friarage Hospital in Northallerton, North Yorkshire would be centralised at the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough.

Although the change has been welcomed by all GP practices and South Tees Hospital Foundation Trust, the plan was referred to the Jeremy Hunt by North Yorkshire Council in March.

The health secretary must now decided whether to instruct the Independent Reconfiguration Panel to conduct a full review of the proposals, based on a recommendation by the panel, which has already carried out a short initial review.

The CCG and South Tees Hospitals Foundation Trust are hoping the plan’s remit will be restricted to conducting a limited review as they want to implement the proposals in October.

Both said the services cannot be staffed properly in their current form and will become unsafe if not changed.

Councillor Blackie revealed the alleged intervention in a posting on social networking site Facebook last week.

“On Friday I spoke with William Hague MP asking if he had arranged a discussion with the Independent Reconfiguration Panel ahead of their replying to Jeremy Hunt on whether it would establish a full independent review by its national experts on the downgrading of 24/7 consultant-led maternity and children’s services at our wonderful Friarage Hospital,” it states.

“I had written to Mr Hague asking him to have this meeting. He replied that he had spoken both with the IRP and privately with Jeremy Hunt and was EXTREMELY OPTIMISTIC [sic] that we would secure the full IRP review we need to retain these fabulous services at our Friarage Hospital.”

The message added that “since he [Mr Hague] is also broadcasting the need for the IRP full review in a Conservative Party flyer doing the rounds locally for MEP Election on May 22nd, the dates look remarkably coincidental to me, and adds to my upbeat feeling that all our worthy efforts over the last 2+ years will be rewarded”.

Speaking to HSJ, councillor Blackie said Mr Hague had told him he met the IRP and was “optimistic”. “If he can’t lobby on behalf of the constituents that he represents I’d ask what is the point of having him?” he asked.

Mr Hague’s constituency office has not so far returned calls from HSJ.

Responding to the councillor’s comments a Department of Health spokesman said: “This is an independent process.  We received initial advice from the [IRP] on 15 May.  The [health secretary] will now carefully consider that advice before responding in due course.”

The CCG said in a statement: “We have confidence in the thoroughness and robustness of the process we have followed.”