WILLIAM Hague is to address a protest rally of thousands against plans to close services for mothers and children at a North Yorkshire hospital after uniting with council chiefs against the proposed withdrawal.
The Foreign Secretary and MP for Richmondshire met with leaders of North Yorkshire County Council and Hambleton and Richmondshire District Councils on Friday over the controversial plans to switch the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton’s maternity and paediatric units to the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough.
The move would leave Yorkshire Dales mothers-to-be with what Mr Hague claims will be one of the longest journeys to access key services in England.
There has been a growing backlash against the plans, which follow a review by the National Clinical Advisory Team (NCAT) and go out for a three-month public engagement next month, but it is the first time Mr Hague has added his voice to the campaign.
“I think we are all completely united about it in our concern, “ he said, following Friday’s meeting.
Coun John Blackie, the leader of Richmondshire District Council, said Mr Hague had now agreed to speak at a major protest rally planned at Northallerton’s County Hall later in the year.
“This is a tremendous boost for our campaign and we are now speaking with a united front,” Coun Blackie said.
“He is our local MP and it is very important that he speaks up on such an important matter that is a cause of grave concern.”
Mr Hague is understood to have already met Health Secretary Andrew Lansley over the closure.
Mr Lansley has now been confirmed to be visiting the Upper Dales Health Watch in Hawes on March 15 in order to discuss the proposed changes, which if accepted could come into force early next year.
About 1,200 babies are born at the Friarage each year, with the hospital’s area including around 150,000 residents. The South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs both the Friarage and James Cook hospitals, says it is considering the NCAT report.