Jeremy Hunt has approved plans to replace consultant-led maternity cover at the Friarage Hospital in North Yorkshire with a midwife-led unit.
The health secretary has “accepted in full” recommendations made by an independent panel that the change should be implemented as quickly as possible.
Mr Hunt said: “These local plans will ensure the best quality treatment for mothers, babies and children in North Yorkshire.
“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,” he added.
The plans, initiated by Hambleton, Whitby and Richmondshire Clinical Commissioning Group, have been in development for nearly three years.
They are backed by South Tees Hospitals Foundation Trust, which runs the hospital, and all the GP practices in the area, which voted in favour of the proposals in February.
A request was made to Mr Hunt in March for an independent review. It followed opposition to the proposals from a local council leader and foreign secretary William Hague, who is MP for Richmond.
But independent reconfiguration panel chair Lord Ribeiro concluded that the proposals 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,” he said.
The panel was “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”, he added.
Vicky Pleydell, the CCG’s chief clinical officer, said: “We hope that people who have had concerns about these plans will be 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”.