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The Countess of Wessex visits Essex’s only Fetal Medicine Unit

30 June 2017

Health Care

Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex GCVO visited the Kypros Nicolaides Fetal Medicine Unit at Southend University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust on Thursday 29 June.

The unit, the only one of its kind in Essex, is a leading regional clinical and research centre for the assessment and treatment of unborn babies.

Around 45 women each month are referred from Southend University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust for specialist fetal medicine care. The unit is affiliated with the world renowned Harris Birthright Unit at King's College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in London, run by Professor Kypros Nicolaides, who the Southend unit is named after.

Her Royal Highness met local civic dignitaries Councillor Fay Evans, the Mayor of Southend; Andy Lewis, Acting Chief Executive of Southend-on-Sea Borough Council and Sir David Amess, MP for Southend West.

Alan Tobias OBE, Chairman of Southend University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, then presented representatives of the Trust to Her Royal Highness.

Clare Panniker, Chief Executive of Southend University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust said a few words of welcome and then invited Her Royal Highness to unveil a plaque to commemorate her visit to the Kypros Nicolaides Fetal Medicine Unit.

Clare said: "It was a great honour and a privilege to welcome Her Royal Highness to Southend Hospital. We are incredibly proud of the Fetal Medicine Unit and are delighted that the Countess was able to meet some of the families that have benefitted from the service."

Prior to that Her Royal Highness and The Royal Party took the opportunity to visit the unit and meet staff and patients, past and present.

Mr Mandeep Singh, Subspecialist Maternal Fetal Medicine Consultant, showed Her Royal Highness some of the equipment and provided a briefing on the services available in the unit, including 3D still and 4D moving images. The Trust is currently the only hospital in Essex to offer this 4D service.

Mr Singh said: "We've seen 1,200 new women since the unit started work and recruited nearly 2,000 women for clinical trials. Due to the number of women using our unit we've established ourselves as a leading research department, helping to improve the lives of women and their babies.

"One recent large research study we took part in aimed to find a new treatment to prevent development of preeclampsia (high blood pressure in pregnancy). This has now been published in the leading research journal, New England Journal of Medicine. We are helping to make a difference and so are the women of Essex who come and see us here in Southend."

Her Royal Highness then met some former patients - now parents - who had taken advantage of the state-of-the-art services offered by the unit. These included Daisy Taylor, 28, and Adam Taylor, 34, from Billericay and their six month old son, Noah.

Daisy had a routine scan at 32 weeks that showed there needed to be further investigation, they were under the care of Southend Hospital for four weeks and it was discovered that yet to be born Noah had a blockage in the tubes in his stomach, called Duodenal atresia.

Noah was successfully operated on at King's College Hospital and that was where he was born but the Taylor family couldn't praise Southend Hospital enough.

Adam said: "Up until then it had been a routine pregnancy and the news knocked us sideways. It was an incredibly stressful time but if the Fetal Medicine Unit had not been here for those initial four weeks it would have meant even more stress travelling up to London.

"Mr Singh and his team were lifesaving, Southend has this amazing facility and if we have any more children we would choose to have them here at Southend Hospital."

Colleen Begg, Clinical Director and Head of Midwifery and Gynaecology, led Her Royal Highness and her party to the Post Natal Ward, where they also met patients, and the midwife-led New Beginnings birthing unit, to look at the facility. Her Royal Highness was then introduced to a group of key members of staff comprising consultants, matrons, members of the senior management team and midwives.

Colleen said: "New Beginnings has provided women with choice and allows them to give birth in a home from home environment. Research has shown that women who are able to deliver in such an environment have a positive experience with better outcomes.

"We encourage as many women as possible to birth in our midwife-led unit. However some women will need input from an obstetrician and we have recently upgraded one of the rooms with a birthing pool in the obstetric unit to ensure choice for all women using our services."

It was in New Beginnings that Teresa Finn, one of 12 newly-qualified midwives, presented Her Royal Highness with a posy.

Yvonne Blücher, Managing Director of Southend University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said: "The Royal visit to the unit gives Southend University Hospital another chance to showcase some of the amazing work that takes place here with our dedicated and passionate staff.  The Fetal Medicine Unit continues to expand its service and we hope to be able to provide it to other hospitals in the region."

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