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Fresh legal challenge threatened over changes at hospital amid claims of “unlawful” consultation

A campaigner has threatened a fresh legal challenge after a consultation on proposed changes at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton did not include the option to maintain its accident and emergency department.

The hospital is part of the South Tees NHS Foundation Trust. The claimant is a resident and member of the Save Friarage Hospital campaign group.

In March 2019 the trust decided to suspend the A&E department and replace it with an urgent treatment centre.

The High Court subsequently granted permission for a judicial review into that decision. However, the judicial review did not go ahead after the NHS Trust and the NHS Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) agreed to hold a full consultation into the future of services at the hospital.

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A public consultation took place from 13 October last year to 17 January.

Irwin Mitchell has written to the CCG expressing concerns that the consultation was unlawful.

The law firm said the main concern was that the consultation did not include an option for the A&E department to be reinstated. “Instead the options put forward to the public were for the department to be replaced with either a 24-hour urgent treatment centre or a 16-hour urgent treatment centre.”

Irwin Mitchell claims that the consultation breaches the statutory duty which the CCG is under and is unlawful on principles of procedural fairness.

It said campaigners had been led to believe from a pre-consultation business case published in June 2019 that the consultation would include a third option, namely reinstatement of the A&E department in at least a limited form.

The law firm added that other concerns related to the consultation included the idea that more could been done to recruit the key staff needed, as well as issues linked to the effect of such changes on the elderly.

Holly Wilkinson, Campaign Lead of the Save Friarage Hospital group, said: “The consultation doesn’t seem to acknowledge that the loss of the emergency department would be a fundamental change to the hospital and its services. This would have a major impact on the wider community and would mean patients having to travel miles way to places such as Middlesbrough or Darlington for emergency treatment.”

Helen Smith, Associate Solicitor at Irwin Mitchell, said: “Throughout this process we have stressed that we completely understand and appreciate the many challenges that the NHS has faced in recent times. However, that is no excuse for failing to properly consult on a key service within a community.

“For the fresh consultation not to include an option of maintaining A&E services is very worrying and seemingly just ignores the legitimate concerns of campaigners. The options put forward for consultation are extremely narrow and do not provide the public with an opportunity to have a say on the fundamental change to service provision, which is the removal of the A&E and associated services from the Friarage Hospital."

Smith added: “We have written to health bosses arguing that a full consultation with an option of reinstating A&E services is held otherwise the campaign group may take legal action.

“It is vital that residents in the area can have a full say in this issue knowing that the views of all have been considered.”

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