STRUCTURE: The health secretary has given the go ahead for a controversial shake-up of maternity services in North Yorkshire which was opposed by a cabinet colleague, according to local councillor.

Jeremy Hunt last week approved plans to replace a consultant led maternity service at Friarage Hospital with one led by midwives and transfer its specialist inpatient paediatric services to four other hospitals.

The proposal by Hambleton, Whitby and Richmondshire Clinicial Commissioning Group had sparked controversy among local politicians, including John Blackie, the independent leader of Richmondshire District Council.

Cllr Blackie claimed last month that the foreign secretary and Richmond MP William Hague had intervened by speaking to both the health secretary and to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel, which had reviewed the proposals.

The review was initiated after Jim Clark, chair of North Council North Yorkshire County Council’s health scrutiny committee appealed for one in letter to Mr Hunt in March,

Mr Hunt however said he “accepted in full” the IRP’s recommendation that the plans should be implemented as quickly as possible.

“These local plans will ensure the best quality treatment for mothers, babies and children in North Yorkshire,” he said in a statement.

“They were drawn up in consultation with the public by local doctors and nurses — the people best-placed to understand the needs of their local patients.

“The Independent Reconfiguration Panel agrees these proposals will improve services for patients and I am accepting their advice in full.”

The plans have been in development for three years and are supported by all GP practices in the area and South Tees Hospitals Foundation Trust, which runs Friarage.

Lord Ribeiro, chair of the IRP said the changes would “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.

He added the IRP is “mindful of the lengthy period of uncertainty and fragility of current services and believe the best way forward now is to implement the CCG’s final proposals as quickly and effectively as possible”.  

Vicky Pleydell, chief clinical officer at the CCG, said she hoped that people with concerns about the plans had been “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”.

The Department of Health last month defended the “independence” of its IRP regime, following Cllr Blackie’s claims about Mr Hague’s intervention.

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