Dwindling births at Friarage revealed as health chiefs decommission emergency ambulance

Just 191 babies were born at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton in 11 months – when officials say the hospital needs 300 births a year to be viable.

The latest figures, revealed in a report out this week, cast fresh doubt on the future use of the hospital, which is currently the subject of a debate launched by NHS bosses.

The report, prepared for North Yorkshire County Council’s scrutiny of health committee, also reveals that an ambulance which is stationed at the Friarage to transfer patients – including pregnant women and sick children – to James Cook Hospital in an emergency is to be decommissioned.

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Health chiefs agreed to station the ambulance at the hospital when the maternity service was downgraded to a midwife-led service in 2014.

But the report reveals that while the ambulance costs almost £700,000 a year, it made just 38 transfers between October 2016 and August 2017.

Over this 11-month period there were 191 births, compared to 267 over the previous 12 months and 266 the year before that.

The report states: “Despite ongoing marketing efforts by South Tees NHS Foundation Trust, births within the midwifery unit are declining and have not reached the required minimum unit threshold of 300 births per year.”

Upper Dales councillor and health campaigner John Blackie said the figures for births were extremely worrying and the decision to decommission the ambulance was another broken promise made by the local NHS.

He said the removal of the ambulance showed the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and  Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commision Group could not be trusted to run local NHS services.

He added: “It’s simply an unedifying and continuing track record of hollow promises being broken at will by the local NHS.”

Cllr Blackie said other broken promises included a reduction in hours of the short-stay paediatric assessment unit and then the closure of the unit at weekends, and the removal of a shuttle bus to James Cook.

“I would ask readers of Richmondshire Today would the removal of the ambulance make it more or less likely that they would choose to give birth at the Friarage.

“My opinion is that it will make them much less likely. They are closing individual services one by one by stealth.”

Janet Probert, chief officer of NHS Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group (the CCG) said the ambulance was introduced as part of the response to the public consultation carried out in relation to the reconfiguration of maternity and paediatric services at the Friarage in 2014.

She added: “The provision of additional emergency ambulance support around the clock was implemented to provide additional assurance to clinicians and the public.

“The CCG has over an extended period of time monitored the utilisation of the dedicated ambulance at the Friarage Hospital and on the basis of the evidence collected discussed and agreed with the Governing Body to decommission this resource from 31 March 2018 because it is not well utilised for the purpose for which it is commissioned; and it does not provide value for money.

“Our data shows us that there has been on average 38 transfers per year which is less than one obstetric transfer per week, costing circa £18,000 per transfer.

“South Tees NHS Foundation Trust has confirmed that there will be no change to the current service model for the midwifery led unit commissioned by the CCG at the Friarage Hospital.”

South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the Friarage, has launched a major consultation exercise to discuss the Northallerton hospital’s future.

Sessions have taken place across Richmondshire and Hambleton.

For more details, click here.

To view the scrutiny of health report click here.


  1. My daughter was one of these 191 babies! We actually advised to go to James Cook just as precaution but has to detour & had our little girl in the lift at FrIarage! What would have happened if that wasn’t an option!

    It would be a huge loss to lose the Midwife led unit! Such amazing level of care! Lots more perks to having it in a busy hospital like Dads get to stay over & visitors are not limited to certain times.

    I can highly recommend it & really hope it doesn’t close! I do feel not having an ambulance will put people off going there though so hope it doesn’t happen!

  2. I think the mistake in the first place was to downgrade it to a midwife led unit when a full maternity service would have been welcomed by all child-bearing women and their partners across Hambleton, Richmondshire and the Dales. The idea of HAVING to go to James Cook is very unappealing given the distance for some and the traffic involved getting there. The service needs to be made attractive to women and then people would use it at this location in their hundreds, justifying all costs.
    As it stands, they are simply making it so unappealing that women are afraid, at a very vulnerable time, to take risks and therefore do not use the service.
    Closure by stealth and a self-fulfilling prophecy decreed from management.

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