Dozens of families are set to be affected by proposed changes to hospital services for babies.
The proposal could see hospital intensive care services for babies from Hartlepool and East Durham transferred from the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton, to James Cook University Hospital, in Middlesbrough.
NHS England said it has commissioned an independent clinical review to ensure the best and safest care with highly trained and experienced specialist staff.
A spokesman said: “The review recognised that the small size of the units providing care is not the most effective and efficient way to get the best and safest outcomes for the youngest and most vulnerable patients.
“They therefore proposed that Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary and James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough should provide the highest levels of NIC, Sunderland should be an intensive care unit but one that would look after infants of greater than 26 weeks gestation and North Tees, which is currently the smallest NIC unit in England, should continue to operate as a special care baby unit.
“This proposed change would mean a small number of local North Tees and Hartlepool families per year would require transfer to Middlesbrough for specialist care, preferably in utero which is the preferred pathway for such babies.
“The numbers likely to be affected are at most around 60–70 families which represents less than 2% of the babies booked and born in North Tees and Hartlepool each year.
“At this stage these are proposals – no decisions have been made.
“We will ensure that local people, especially those likely to be affected, are fully involved and consulted on any changes proposed.”