A cramped and ageing unit
Until recently, the Women’s and Neonatal Unit at Whipps Cross Hospital hadn’t been updated for almost 50 years. It was described as “cramped” and “ageing” by some mums, with many choosing to give birth elsewhere after visiting the hospital early in their pregnancy.
In 2018, we gave £6.8 million to modernise and expand the unit, creating a physical environment to match the high standard of care on offer.
Meeting a growing need in East London
East London is seeing a rapidly increasing birth rate, which is expected to grow by 33,000 in the next four years. Mums-to-be in the local community also have the highest proportion of high-risk pregnancy of any population in the UK. The newly refurbished unit aims to meet this growing need for women’s health services.
The new women’s health centre has the capacity to handle the increase in birth rate and bring the facilities up to the same standard as the well-recognised maternity care at the hospital.
Seven areas including the antenatal clinic, the labour ward and the special care baby unit, including better facilities for parents staying overnight have been remodelled to a high standard. An emergency corridor links the maternity unit and the main hospital – a short journey that required an ambulance.
Caring for the most vulnerable babies
One of the wards that was refurbished was the Neonatal Unit (NNU) which cares for some of the most vulnerable and premature babies and their parents. Thanks to a gift of £50,000 from the Garfield Weston Foundation, we were able to update this unit which was struggling to cope with increased demand from the growing number of patients. Staff in the new NNU are now caring for nearly half (47%) as many more babies as they were before the unit was refurbished.
The unit now has reclining chairs next to the cots for parents, as well as double ensuite bedrooms, kitchen and shower facilities. The modernised layout has also allowed staff to run a community nursery to re-admit families whose babies have feeding problems or jaundice in the first weeks of life. There has already been a huge demand for this unit in the community.
"We have great facilities for involving parents in the care of their babies and have made it really easy for parents to stay around the clock. Now, some families stay for the entire admission. It’s impossible to compare the new improved unit with the old one."Christine Fogarty, Matron at the Neonatal Unit at Whipps Cross Hospital
Crucially, the centre spans both service delivery and research, helping to meet the demand now and in the future for mums and their children across East London, while enabling research of potential national and international benefit.
There is a dedicated space for a laboratory with research staff so the Barts Research Centre for Women’s Health – started with £2m Barts Charity funding in 2018 – are able to recruit more expectant mums and expand their research power.
This new network of clinical maternity researchers across London is the largest in Europe and possibly worldwide. It will drive population-wide translational research focused on tackling problems disproportionately affecting East London mothers and their babies – such as diabetes, excessive bleeding, and dietary problems.
A huge boost to local mothers over the next 10 years
50,000 local mothers over the next ten years will now benefit from these improvements to the Whipps Cross maternity and neonatal unit with many more likely to benefit from the new research opportunities. And together with the other maternity facilities operated by Barts Health NHS Trust, the new Whipps Cross centre is part of the biggest maternity service in Europe.
Fiona Miller Smith, our Chief Executive says: “We’re delighted to have funded this hugely exciting new project at Whipps Cross Hospital. It is set to have a huge impact on the local population, supporting mothers and children of East London.
“It also builds on our previous £2 million funding to establish the Barts Research Centre for Women’s Health, and we’re confident that it will give them a greater reach to ensure significantly improved care and outcomes for mothers across the UK.”
The difference made
- improving patient experience
- expanding the unit
- creating better facilities for partners and parents of babies who need special care to stay overnight
- introducing dedicated facilities to increase the research capacity
- building an emergency corridor to the main hospital, a journey that currently requires an ambulance