TO the casual observer,it’s business as usual at Milton Keynes hospital maternity unit.
There are wide-eyed mums, still exhausted from the birth, gazing down in wonder at the tightly-wrapped bundles in their arms.
There are midwives bustling along in their crisp uniforms, flat shoes clomping efficiently across the spotlessly clean floor as they reassure a new parent here, check a feeding chart there and generally exude an air of calm cheerfulness.
In the delivery rooms a woman makes guttural, primordial sounds as she concentrates on pushing her long-awaited first-born son out into the world.
She is scared, naturally, but she is also reassured, because she knows instinctively that she and her almost-born baby are in the safest of hands.
Yes, Milton Keynes maternity services are everything they should be. And that is exactly the reason for the barely-suppressed air of celebration that fills the unit this week.
After years of criticism and two tragic and avoidable baby deaths, the unit reached rock bottom early last year.
Public confidence was plummeting, moral was low and even midwives were secretly wondering whether they wanted to work there.
The Care Quality Commission stepped in last March and ordered a specialist task force be sent in for as long as it took to solve the various problems.
A list of 12 improvements, demanding everything from staffing numbers to baby care, was laid down in no uncertain terms.
Today the task force, the staff and the hospital bosses have done their job.
They have accomplished nine of the improvements and passed with flying colours. The remaining three are ‘in the bag’ with progress reports due to be submitted before the deadline later this month.
“We are performing well, which is good news for patients and also the midwives and doctors who have been working so hard to make the improvements,” said the hospital’s Director of Nursing Tony Halton.
The biggest difference, he said, is that women are now offered one-to-one care throughout their labour.
It’s a unique service and one that has already received the seal of approval from the new mothers themselves.
Felicity Starr was in labour for 12 hours before giving birth to a healthy baby girl on Monday.
She and her partner had been particularly worried because Felicity had suffered a car accident at 34 weeks of pregnancy and needing checking over at the maternity unit.
“I heard rumours that a few years ago this wasn’t the best place to have a baby,” she said.
“But when I came in they were so attentive that I wasn’t worried any more.
“During labour the care was absolutely amazing. They were so supportive and it was comforting to know someone was there for me.”
Felicity stayed in hospital for a couple of days’ additional care after the birth.
“Those days have been really useful. They’ve shown us how to breastfeed and how to put on tiny nappies.
“It’s nice to be reassured that you are doing all the right things. Everyone has been so helpful.”
Caring for Felicity is midwife Tracey Billingsley who qualified in March last year, just as the task force started, after training for three years at the hospital.
There were six trainee midwives in her group and all of them opted to remain, she said.
“I wanted to stay here because the Trust was working enormously hard to improve things. I’ve seen an enormous improvement.
“It has been amazing. The changes have made so much difference.
“There are more midwives, there is more training and we can spend more time with the women.
“It has meant we have time to really get to know the women, their needs, their risk factors and we can provide really good care..
“That is rewarding and it is what women want too.
“I really look forward to coming to work now.”