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Valentines’ Day marked the official opening of the £12million state-of-the-art maternity unit at Furness General Hospital, just 15 months after building work started. More than 140 members of staff, bereaved parents, dignitaries and guests applauded and cheered as Dr Bill Kirkup and Furness MP John Woodcock unveiled a plaque at the centre via live video link.

They were then treated to presentations from Sascha Wells, Director of Midwifery, Gynaecology and Obstetrics, University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (UHMBT); and Paula Richardson, Head of Fundraising and Charity for Bay Hospitals Charity. Sascha Wells, said: “I feel absolutely elated that we have reached this point. It is a very exciting time for our teams and everyone in the Barrow area. We have had some fantastic feedback from our guests today, which is extremely touching and I want to thank everyone who has supported us through this journey. “This really is a new beginning for our maternity services. The new unit includes all of the facilities that the public has told us will make a real difference to women and families.”

Dame Jackie Daniel, Chief Executive, UHMBT added: “It has been a real privilege to be here today. It’s a culmination of years’ worth of work, not only on the design, the planning and the building, which is truly spectacular but it’s been steadfastly working through all of the improvements we needed to make with the teams, all of the midwives, the doctors and the families that have supported us with that. “I want to thank our MP John Woodcock and the families who have worked with us tirelessly on this. They have a lot to feel very proud of as we move into the future.”

The centre, named by the public and staff, is made up of 14 en-suite birthing rooms with facilities for partners to stay over, two dedicated operating theatres, a Special Care Baby Unit, a Maternity Assessment area, a Transitional Care facility, a skills lab for staff training, and a Bereavement Suite. Lesley Bennett, who has as worked closely with the Trust to design the new unit, said: “It’s been a very happy, emotional day, to reach this point after all of the planning and work we’ve done. I am so proud to have been part of it.” To ensure the new unit met the needs of staff and the local communities, staff at the Trust have been working closely with staff and families who lost loved ones following care at FGH, women and families that have used its maternity services previously and those that may use them in the future, to design the unit and what it is made up of.

Some of the ideas that were given by staff, women and families which were then incorporated into the final design, included:

• The facilities for birth partners to stay with the woman from admission to discharge home • The skills lab which enables multi-disciplinary teams to learn and train together. This includes a £75,000 state-of-the-art ‘Sim Mum’ that simulates various birthing situations and complications to allow staff to keep their clinical skills and decision making up to date

• The dedicated Bereavement Suite and garden – including what is in the suite and the décor

• Extra birthing pools

• The interior design of the final unit

• The final name of the unit – South Lakes Birth Centre.

The first baby to be welcomed into the world at the centre was McKenzie Kirkland. He was born a week early on February 7. Dr Bill Kirkup, author of the Morecambe Bay Investigation report, said: “I think that this new unit, apart from the fact it is an absolutely wonderful environment, is a tangible sign of a lot of changes that have happened at the Trust. The Trust came from a very difficult position in 2015 when the report was published and it has gone further and faster in transforming its culture and the service that it is providing in maternity than I ever thought that they could. It’s been an absolute pleasure and a privilege to be here to see that.”

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