Beds, Herts & Bucks

New maternity unit opens in Stevenage

The first phase of a new state-of-the-art maternity unit has been opened by the East and North Herts NHS Trust.

The unit at the Lister Hospital in Stevenage will eventually be the main birthing facility for the area.

Delivery services currently at the Queen Elizabeth II hospital in Welwyn Garden City will move to the unit in October.

Nick Carver, trust chief executive, says women will have more choice and improved care.

"It's a wonderful new facility which stands in comparison with the best that the National Health Service or private sector can provide," he said.

Improved services

"We're replacing facilities that frankly were pretty tired and out of date with state-of-the-art facilities and are also ensuring that we can provide high quality care in an economic down turn as well."

The new unit, which was developed at a cost of around £16.5m has a consultant-led unit and a midwife-led unit for lower risk mothers-to-be. Home births will also be encouraged where appropriate.

Neonatal services, clinical care for babies requiring some level of support, have also been improved.

Mr Carver said that the development of the new unit did not mean that all the services would be removed from the Welwyn Garden City site, but that "considerable investment" would be put into the QEII hospital.

"Our primary care trust colleagues will be developing a new hospital at the QEII and all antenatal care and post natal care that's currently provided there will continue to be provided there in the future," he said.

Concerns raised

The move does however, mean a significant increase in journey time to a maternity unit for women living in Welwyn and Hatfield and other areas further south.

Suzanne Bigmore from St Albans is concerned about the distance for people in her area.

"The Lister is at least a half-hour drive away and from Watford anything from half-an-hour to much more in the traffic," she said.

"It's bad enough that St Albans and Hemel have already closed. Why on earth, in such a densely populated area, should I be expected to have to travel over half an hour in the car to give birth?"

Mr Carver said that while he was aware distance could be an issue, there were other factors involved in the decision.

"The challenge we've got is to make sure that we provide the best possible quality service recognising that we can't unfortunately provide that on every street corner and that's what we've sought to do," he said.

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